A BIG NOVEL ABOUT A SMALL TOWN …
When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils … Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? (Goodreads)
For most people this book either left them disappointed, or it exceeded all their expectations. I belong in neither of these categories, simply because I didn’t have any expectations to begin with. I’ve always been a fan of J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series. In fact, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the first ‘proper’ book I read in English when I was 11 years old. But I wasn’t all that excited about the release of this new book if I’m honest. This is mostly because the book itself just didn’t sound very interesting to me. A story about the council of a small West Country town just doesn’t sound gripping and edge of your seat kind of material, and it certainly seems bleak in comparison to the magical world of Harry Potter. Not that I want to compare the two in the slightest. In fact, that’s part of the reason that put me off this book in the first place. When the book first came out I read a couple of reviews in the Guardian and the New York Times, which were both relatively negative, but other than making continuous comparisons to Harry Potter they didn’t really go into the topic of the actual book itself. When people around me started reading it and the positive reviews began to pile up, I decided that maybe I should read it after all. By the time I unwrapped my own copy at Christmas I was really exited and couldn’t wait to start reading it.
In my opinion The Casual Vacancy is such a beautiful book in more ways than one. It shows life in a small town in all its glory and ugliness, and paints a very realistic picture of what small town life is actually like. I will not go into details with regards to the various storylines and what I thought of them, since most reviewers have already done that and I’d only be repeating what’s already been said. What I loved most about the book is that there’s a clear distinction between the first and the second half of the book. The first 300 pages or so progress at a very leisurely pace, and in a way it felt to me like a very long introduction to the story and its characters. But I don’t mean this in a negative way, but rather in a very positive way. Rowling’s writing style is beautiful, and every page was just a joy to read, and this is how I managed to get really into the story. There are a lot of characters, so this ‘long introduction’ was needed in order to establish all of them and get the reader acquainted with them. I would pick up my book every day, read a couple of chapters, and put it away again, and I enjoyed every minute of it. During the last 200 odd pages of the book, the pace suddenly changes and the story suddenly picks up and becomes a lot more gripping. It was at this point that I simply couldn’t put the book down anymore, and I had to keep reading until I had finished it. Towards the end the story takes an unexpected turn, and when I say unexpected I really mean it. I definitely didn’t see it coming, and even though it was something dramatic, I love the fact that Rowling has a knack for surprising her readers time and time again. The book doesn’t have a real ending, and even though I usually dislike open endings it worked well for this story. Real life doesn’t come to a sudden ending, and neither does this book. For some the story ends, and for others it will continue for a long time. And that’s life I suppose.
I absolutely enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a well constructed, intelligent read.