Monday, October 1, 2012

The Casual Vacancy - Review

The newest J.K. Rowling book released on my birthday and some of my most awesome friends gifted it to meand I couldn't keep my nose out of it until the last page.

First things first, this book is big. It will take time. I started reading Harry Potter when I was 10 and a decade later, legally an adult, I personally cringed in horror in the beginning few pages. It was like a jolt, a Universe that decided to flip 180 degrees, I simply could not bring myself to believe that the same hand that wrought unspeakable volumes of child-like innocence could wield these words.

I ought to have been prepared for it obviously. So I decided I will wipe away my fond memories of Harry, who I think is the best example of a person, for the duration of "The Casual Vacancy". I forced myself to see this in a new light.

What I liked about the book was the brutal face of honesty. It explored complex issues from the eyes of the victim. Racism, child abuse, work stress, secrets, problems, politics, teenage abuse, online abuse, dyslexia, sibling rivalry, urban-rural divide, arranged marriage vs. love marriage, religious tolerance, the list is endless. It was a mini-UK in one. The complexities of the human mind and characters were poignantly drawn out. For the first time, the reader got a glimpse of the story through many characters as compared to simply following Harry.

Barry, a politician of note in a small town called Pagford, dies unexpectedly leaving the casual vacancy. The story revolves around the election and the people behind it. The racing narrative slowly unveils Pagford, scenic, yet steeped in mystery. Children play a significant role behind the scenes. Suddenly, this quaint town, which boasts of few mobile users, is attacked by SQL injections and the website is inundated with posts from "The Ghost of Barry" which reveal truths that Pagford society has swept under the carpet. Parminder Jawanda, the much-hyped Indian character has an underachieving child, Sukhvinder. The story of the mother's campaign is strongly interwined by Sukhvinder's desire to be loved openly by her mother and her inability to confide about the cyber-bullying she is subjected to. Krystal Weedon, a sixteen year old, is also an important child, brought up in questionable parentage, socially outcast, Barry gives her something to strive for, by putting her on the rowing crew. Krystal and Sukhvinder become fast friends on the crew. The other two children, Fats and Arf, I'll let the reader discover who they are.

One character I liked a lot was Kay. Kay is a new comer to Pagford who works against child abuse. She is in charge of the Weedons for a while, unsatisfied with how Terri Weedon is taking care of her son, Robbie, she threatens to take the child away. Krystal intervenes and a special bond is built. Kay is brought to Pagford by Gavin, who both refuses to commit or leave her, which he eventually does later on. In the end when he does try to come back, we see a stronger Kay, saying goodbye.

The end revolves around who wins, who is the ghost, what happens to Sukhvinder's dreams, to many other people I haven't mentioned simply because the plot is too complicated and I don't want to overwhelm this post.

When I read this book, I feel J K Rowling's signature style, that magic of words. I think her work at Amnesty International helped her to flesh out Kay. She makes us stare at the jarring face of reality head on. But the bottom-line is, as complex and myriad the narration was, as connected and cohesive the plot was, there was a casual vacancy in my heart, at the sadness in the story, an overdose of reality, the snatching away of a promise that all's well that ends well. It does end well, not that well, and that is how I felt.

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