Monday, October 8, 2012

On Rowling's Casual Vacancy

The article may contain spoilers; the reader is advised to turn away now if they don't want to view plot details.

 It would appear that Mrs. Rowling has unleashed the antithesis to the Potter legacy; Casual Vacancy is everything that the Potter series never was. The most amount of frustration that young-blooded Harry showed at the end of The Order of the Phoenix seems absolutely piffling compared to the angst and tensions in Rowling's latest literary offering. And though it's been repeated ad nauseum for our benefit, I'd dare one more mention: This book is clearly not for young adults and certainly has no elements of magic or childlike innocence. It is Rowling's intention for people to accept her as a talented author and not forever condemn her to children's fiction. The book is set on the idyllic town of Pagford and its contentious relationship with the neighbouring city of Yarvil. At the heart of the quarrel are the Fields:an area which houses some of the worst drug abusers, prostitutes and ill-behaved British underclass.

The Parish Council of Pagford is divided into two opposing factions: Those who want the Fields to remain with Pagford and those who wish for it be consigned to Yarvil; off the hands of good Pagford citizens who are forced to bear the brunt of the vandalism, verbal, physical and drug abuse. Barry Fairbrother is the councilman whose death precipitates a scuffle for his empty seat. With elections on the way, the residents of Pagford are divided by the singular issue of the upkeep of the drug rehabilitation clinic. While some believe that the clinic's methadone doses keep some women from patrolling the street, others believe that the clinic fosters an "entitlement" attitude that gives no incentive for the drug users to kick their habit. Although Fairbrother at first seems like a trivial character created and conveniently disposed for the sake of plot progression, Rowling beautifully describes how each character relates to him: the daughter of a heroin-using whore regards him as a father figure; his own wife thinks he's forsaken her for championing the causes of Pagford; his acquaintance realizes that he has just lost his best friend and his opponents on the council wax poetic about his untimely death while gloating over their newly gained knowledge of the term "stroke". Rowling has unabashedly created characters that are centrally flawed that, at times, test the limits of credibility. Most of them are sexually repressed: wives fantasizing about rock idols, separate twin beds and meek men whose hearts waver in their true intention. There are violent men, insecure women, underperforming children and plenty of obscenity:internet porn, unintimate and hurried sexual encounters and near cloacal verbal filth that would shame a sailor (pardon my stereotyping). The singular action of one "Pizza Face" would start a domino effect and ultimately expose the true nature that lie hidden behind the masks; one notices a silent nod to Crash. 

In sum, one can't tell if the struggles of British underclass mirrors those of the imaginary inhabitants of Pagford, but Rowling has created a grim landscape where people are trapped by their false sense of authority, gossip and where their buried secrets are brought to the fore for all to bear witness. Thoroughly depressing, yet highly recommended fiction for Fall 2012.

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