Their reward for enduring the awful experience was the right to tell people about it.
While Harry Potter can suit anyone, Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy is designed to target adults — readers who can handle large amounts of mature content. Rowling interprets a literal meaning from the term “adult novel,” writing as crudely as she can by tossing in a great cast of characters that allows her to broach as many issues as possible: adultery, molestation, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, bullying, sexual deviation, homosexuality, physical abuse, depression, racial prejudice, and so on. The list is a long one.
It’s almost like she set out to prove she’s more than a children’s author. She seems to say, “I can be nasty. I can be dirty. I’m not so fragile.”
Once readers move past how weird that is and how hard Rowling tries to be vulgar in the beginning parts of the book, the novel becomes a poignant examination of society’s hypocrisy and the complexities of human nature. Every character has problems, but most of them derive from misunderstandings — from failing to communicate and listen. These people are self-involved and can’t imagine that anyone has it as bad as they do, but everyone does.
It’s hard not to judge these characters even when you’re condemning them for judging others. Rowling arguably provides the best commentary about this through the character Terri Weedon — a drug addict, whore, and poor excuse for a mother. We only think we know these characters until Rowling offers us a different perspective.
Everyone is at war — with each other and mostly with themselves. This isn’t a happy book. Rowling’s subtle observations of human tendencies are painfully frank. After listening to an unconventional choice of music at a funeral, for instance, “the congregation filed slowly out of the church, trying not to walk in time to the beat of the song.” The Casual Vacancy is full of these little revealing moments about our social insecurities.
The book reaches just over 500 pages, but the more you read, the more it swallows you whole and demands your attention. The pain these characters suffer is intolerable; you feel their fury and their shame, and it makes you root for the worst of them. You want them to fix their lives.
Not all ends well, but from tragedy springs forth a kind of poetic justice and truce for many — husbands and wives, parents and children, and friends and enemies. The “resolution” (truer to real life than to perfect, fairytale endings) makes you a little more hopeful, and for once, you can see “a prettiness about Pagford,” a town built on gossip, small-mindedness, and solidarity.
I can’t recommend it enough. And if it still bothers you, just pretend Rowling didn’t write it.