Dr Vaidehi Nathan
The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling, Little Brown100 Victoria Embankment, (in India by Hachette India), Pp 503 (HB), Rs 850.00
JK Rowling’s first adult novel The Casual Vacancy is tepid, tentative and rather dull. It is as though she had to write a novel. The story line and the characters are all uninspiring, negative and unlikeable. The plot revolves around an English village/town called Pagford and the election of a parish councilor. The election is necessitated by the sudden death of a rather amiable and well-liked man Barry Fairbrother. What happens below the surface as men vie for that post is what the narrative is all about. There is an Asian flavour to it in the presence of a Sikh doctor.
There is a lot of autobiographical element too. A wife beating man (Rawling’s ex-husband used to hit her), a seriously ill woman (Rowling’s mother battled multiple sclerosis), the travails of a single mother, living on welfare (Rowling herself), the town itself, so similar to her native place called Winterbourne.
People who seemed well-meaning and nice turn plotting and scheming. And all their worst seems to come out on this occasion, brought by the death of Barry. His widow Mary seems to be helping the man who wanted to step into Barry’s shoes in the parish. The children of the town are witness to their parents’ pettiness.
After having delivered best sellers, one after another and taking a long break from the last book, one expected Rowling to come out with a more substantial book. It is probably the expectation that has led to this sense of let down. As a debut novel of anybody else, it may have been received better. An innocuous non-fiction that is not likely to see the raving reception Rowling’s other books got.
(Little Brown 100 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DY, (in India by Hachette India)