The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy

A few weeks ago I read The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling. It really is excellent and I highly recommend it. I don’t remember ever reading a book where you go so successfully behind closed doors into marriages, relationships and family dynamics to see what’s really going on. It’s such an honest and sometimes quite painful reflection of what holds people together and drives them apart that it’s quite hard to read in places, but there’s also a guilty delight in peeking behind the net curtains into other people’s lives. And who couldn’t delight in seeing the teenagers getting revenge on their parents who quite frankly do deserve it?

It’s set in a small town in England where warfare reigns between the pillars of the community that want to cut adrift their troublesome council estate and those who are fighting for it. The book begins with one of the pillars of the community suddenly dying and follows the reactions of those who knew him, who immediately start the fight to replace his parish council seat. Having heard about the goings on on the parish council in the village where my Dad lives, it all rang very true to me. It also reminded me of growing up in Winchester – a city that’s on a larger scale than the fictional town of Pagford, but is similar in many ways in terms of the people and their preoccupations.

The layers are peeled back on petty jealousies, years old family secrets, unrequited love, domestic violence, and the spiralling towards disaster of a family on the edge. The scenes on the council estate are very realistically written – having spent years interviewing people living on benefits in their homes on estates around the UK I could really visualise these houses both inside and out. The houses and the families that live there are described in such a way that JK Rowling must have had first experience of them too.

If this all doesn’t sound very cheery don’t be put off – it’s one of those books that is both fantastic and that should be read, particularly in the context of benefit cuts and the demonisation of people on benefits that is currently going on in the UK.