The Magic is gone, literally. At first glance, The Casual Vacancy holds much promise. It starts with a death, and a scramble for the post left vacant by the deceased. But as the book goes on, it gives a feeling of watching many movies simultaneously. It’s hard to pin point, but it all seems like it has been done before, and unfortunately, better. While trying to be radically different from the Harry Potter series, strangely, the book keeps reminding you of it. Comparison with the fantasy series is inevitable, to say the least.
In politically correct terms, the tale of intertwined lives of Pagford residents is heartbreaking. Who wouldn’t feel for Krystal Weedon, the 16-year-old daughter of a heroin addict, somehow managing to keep her half brother from being taken away by social services? Or, for Colin Walls, suffering from debilitating OCD, forever wondering whether he really molested the school girls or was it his imagination? Or for Andrew Price, living with a monster of a father, beating the whole family every time his masculinity is challenged in his own mind? Or for every character of the book who is dealing with life’s tragic realities with a grimace on the face.
But that is the thing, with everyone facing one or the other epic challenge, the magnitude of these tragedies is lost upon the reader. With nothing to contrast the sadness and the grimness of life, it doesn’t seem so bleak anymore. With everyone suffering, the pain fails to reach the heart. In short, it is difficult to truly care about the residents of Pagford.
Instead of the bare and the shocking, it’s the subtle and the delicate in this ‘adult’ book that holds the attention. That Mary Fairbrother’s husband drops dead all of a sudden is tragic. But the real tears come when her anger about him spending his last day [their anniversary] on a newspaper article bursts forth. The inexplicable nature of love, forgetting and forgiving the big things but refusing to let go of miniscule details. Mrs Jawanda, married to the dashing heartthrob of the town, but in love with the small, bearded Fairbrother. A love that she does not even become aware of months after his death. The foul-mouthed, having sex in the bushes, bully Weedon, repulsive and attractive at the same time. But in one moment she is a vulnerable child, the other even a more vulnerable mother to her half brother. Andrew Price, talking and dreaming of sex while smoking hash, but cycling off on trembling legs when his object of passion mutters a simple ‘Hi’. Sadly, that is not what the book is about.
Those who have read Harry Potter must remember the pensieve, in which the memories were floated to be revisited. And if a memory was tampered with, it would become hazy and confusing. Isn’t it strange that it was so easy to imagine a pensieve, even though such an object does not exist, while imagining the town of Pagford is like looking at a tampered memory? It’s hazy, confusing. It’s unbelievable that a writer so powerful that she made Hogwarts, Forbidden Forest and Ministry of Magic come alive, fails to give a sense of a simple British town. That when one tries to imagine Fields, the ramshackle nemesis of Pagford, full of junkies, social workers and other mish-mash sections of the society, the neighbourhood of American History keeps coming to the mind.
As the beginning, the book ends with death too. It leaves a feeling of betrayal. Yes, nobody was hoping for a happy ending but then the ending should have been sad, bitter, open, something? It’s nothing. It ends where it seems like the book has gone on for too long. The deaths seem like emotional blackmail, introduced just to evoke terrible emotions and to give an ending to a tale that possibly can’t have an ending. All in all, a story difficult to love, or hate, simply because it has been written by someone who wrote Harry Potter.