What We Know So Far About J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy”

This year’s most anticipated book release drops this Thursday. The project has been under tight wraps from the moment it was announced, reminiscent of the supreme amount of secrecy surrounding J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter releases. Don’t you miss those?

The Casual Vacancy is 512 pages thick. The idea of it was conceived on a plane where Rowling thought “local elections” and the idea wrote itself out. She says it was the sort of idea that hits you and you know it will work. It was the same with Harry Potter.

The title was initially “Responsible.” But when Rowling stumbled on a newspaper with the words “casual vacancy” in it, she immediately knew that it fit her story better. She has been writing the book since Harry Potter was done and considered publishing it under a pseudonym but she figured it would be much braver if she published it under her own name.

And it is her name alone that’s causing this book to be a success even before it is released.

The Casual Vacancy opens with the death of a parish councillor in the village of Pagford. Barry, the councillor, had grown up on the Fields, a nearby estate that’s drenched in poverty, with which other citizens of Pagford, notably the middle class, have lost patience. If they can fill Barry’s seat with one more councillor sympathetic to their disgust, they’ll secure a majority vote to relinquish responsibility for the Fields and hand it over to a neighboring council.

The battle for the seat starts. And it’s not a simple election as one can conceive, it is the story of a town at war. Pupils at war with their teachers, sons and daughters with their parents, the rich with the poor…. It is the battle of different classes. The chairman assumes the seat will go to his son, against whom are a cold GP and a deputy headmaster with ambivalence towards his son, a self-possessed adolescent whose subversion takes the form of telling the truth.

The Fields’ most notorious family is the Weedons.

Terri Weedon is a prostitute, junkie and a victim of abuse. She is struggling to stay clean to stop social services from taking her three-year-old son away from her. But it is her daughter, Krystal, who will take up the mantle of being the mother. But the death of Barry, the only adult whom Krystal considered as a friend, leaves her alone and struggling in the poverty that she lives in.

Anonymous messages will then start appearing on the parish’s website, exposing the laundry of the people living there and the town sinks into paranoia and tragedy.

The novel is written from multiple perspectives. So it invites the reader to delve into the head of different characters. Some journalists who were offered the chance to read the book said that this differing perspective made them think the book was closer to a comedy until it really sank in and they were hit by the severity and tragedy of it all as they delved into the Weedon’s minds.

The book is about the middle class of Britain. It is a representation of what J.K. Rowling says a “phenomenally snobby society.” And she has laid it bare. It is the story of heroin addiction, teen sexuality and economical problems. So it is as an adult book as it can get without it being Fifty Shades of Grey. The book is so unlike Harry Potter, in fact, that even the language used is one that would definitely shock any Rowling fan.

Some quotes from the book are as follows:

  • “The leathery skin of her upper cleavage radiated little cracks that no longer vanished when decompressed.”
  • [A lustful boy sits on a bus] “with an ache in his heart and in his balls.”
  • And there’s a reference to a girl’s “miraculously unguarded vagina.”

The Casual Vacancy has already sold more than one million copies in pre-orders and will be the year’s top selling new release. I will review it as soon as I finish reading it upon its release this Thursday. But I have high expectations.

(Sources: 1 and 2)

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