A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Remember Jeannie C. Riley’s 1968 hit song, “Harper Valley PTA”? After receiving a sanctimonious note from the junior high PTA, a widowed mother attends their meeting, exposes their vices and sums up:
“And THEN you have the nerve to tell me you think that as a mother I’m not fit
Well this is just a little Peyton Place and you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites”
This is exactly what J.K. Rowling has to say in her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, and she says it with all the style and insight she gave us in her Harry Potter series—minus the magic potions and Quidditch. This difference must be understood upfront: Do not get The Casual Vacancy expecting a Harry Potter kind of book.
What you will get is a great cast of characters living in the small town of Pagford, England, reeling from the sudden death of Barry Fairbrother, a 44-year old man whose brief life affected that of many others. They range from his wife and four children, to the Parish Council on which he sat, to the Winterdown girl’s rowing team he coached. Since Barry rose to some stature despite being born in The Fields, he championed causes that would help others living in its desperate, destitute environs. Many upwardly mobile neighbors, though, see The Fields and its heroin addiction clinic as an obligation to be shed as fast as possible.
With Barry’s death, a casual vacancy occurs on the Parish Council and three interested parties emerge, vying for the spot to advance their own agendas–not necessarily Barry’s. These parties have secrets, however, and secrets have a way of coming to light, especially with a little computer hacking.
With Rowling’s careful exploration of each character’s back-story and motives, we come to see how residents in Pagford and The Fields influence each other for better or worse, before and after Barry Fairbrother, and what his legacy may be.
Actor Tom Hollander narrates the audio edition of The Casual Vacancy and puts his enthralling British accent through a full range of change-ups. Whether reading the lines of a 65-year old Pagford-booster deli owner, a teen girl discarded by society and living on her wits, her three-year old brother or any of the dozen-plus other characters, he gives Rowling’s story the introspective yet dynamic telling it richly deserves.
Review by Christine