Like almost every other person on the planet, with the exception of my own daughter, I devoured the Harry Potter books, pre-ordering and waiting with ill-disguised impatience for the next installment to arrive. I realized that Rowling had ended the logical extension of the series with The Deathly Hallows. So, I went back and forth about pre-ordering The Casual Vacancy. I even put off reading it, because it was Rowling and not Potter.
After pulling an all-nighter to get to the end of The Casual Vacancy, I realize that Rowling’s magic still exists. It exists in her ability to set up characters in such a way that the ending is almost as unbelievable as it is inevitable. She creates a new world, only it’s not new. It’s the world we don’t often like to see, especially when we see ourselves. Rowling is a master of revealing character by actions and inactions and she creates a world in which both adults and teens have an interior life. Those interior lives guide the actions of all involved, for good or ill.
On this day after the United States presidential election, we have been stunned by the amount of campaign rhetoric that has bombarded us. In the town of Pagford, following the unexpected death of Barry Fairbrother, a popular Parish Council member, factions of residents must decide if they will stand for his seat. The adults are in a tizzy of ambition, partisanship, and family pressure.
Ah, but they have forgotten that little pitchers have big ears, and therein lies the tragic flaw of the story. The youth of the villages have their own agendas and they act on their agendas as inexorably as their parents. The characterizations of the youth in the novel are where Rowling reminds us of her writing genius. They are flawed. They are products of both nature and nurture and they all – every one of them – act out in response to societal and school pressures.
Rowling skips nothing – prejudice, bullying, disillusion, failure, success, rejection, mental illness, drug addiction, and tragedy. All of it weaves together to create a world that we all know but, out of an intense desire to be polite, we ignore. But that world exists and, by not acknowledging it, we condone it.
There is an ineffable sadness to this work because we see ourselves in a variety of mirrors and we don’t much like it. There is redemption, if we choose to take heed of our reflection. The only question remains – will we act or will we stand silent? Silence, in this case, is a synonym for death.
If you are looking for Harry Potter and wands and wizards, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for outstanding character development, gritty realism, and the idea that you will see yourself and your children in the residents of Pagford and The Fields, read this book.
Read this book. Read it with an open mind and an open heart. You will be better for it. I know I have plenty to think about now.
10/10 Hearts. This is a must read that will stand the test of time.