The Casual Vacancy

by J K Rowling

I held off reading this when it was first published, being somewhat wary of the hype, but also the less than encouraging reviews.

The BBC screened a three-part adaptation of the novel in February 2015, which I watched on catch-up. With an impressive cast, a good script and excellent direction, I found the story and characters engrossing. So I latterly decided to read the book.

I was not disappointed. Rowling’s use of language is exemplary, as evidenced by her Harry Potter books. The novel has a huge cast of characters, each of them believable and human.  Some, like Howard Mollison, are shown in an overwhelmingly negative light.  But they all have their flaws, and if anyone can be seen as basically ‘good’, it is Barry Fairbrother himself (who dies at the very beginning of the story) and, perhaps, Krystal.

The story is compelling and also convincing, though I felt that the changes made for the TV production, and in particular the changed ending, enhanced the story rather than diminishing it.  I felt drawn into the world of the small town of Pagford, and I could utterly believe in the petty squabbles and more worrying antagonisms that can cause untold damage in people’s lives.

One last thought: I read somewhere that the story bears parallels with J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls.  I am not sure whether Rowling had this story in mind when she wrote this novel.  The story is significantly different – for one thing, there is no ‘inspector’ character acting as a prompt to the other characters to reveal their actions and motives.  To some extent, the ‘ghost of Barry Fairbrother’ may fulfil this role.  But the way in which small gestures born of apathy, ignorance, contempt or fear may influence another person’s life in a momentous way – this comes across vividly in this novel.  And yet it is not didactic.

I would read this again.

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