Evertree Crescent was a sickle moon of 1930s bungalows, which lay two minutes from Pagford’s main square. In number thirty-six, a house tenanted longer than any other in the street, Shirley Mollison sat, propped up against her pillows, sipping the tea that her husband had brought her. The reflection facing her in the mirrored doors of the built-in wardrobe had a misty quality, due partly to the fact that she was not wearing glasses, and partly to the soft glow cast over the room by her rose-patterned curtains. In this flattering, hazy light, the dimpled pink and white face beneath the short silver hair was cherubic.
The bedroom was just large enough to accommodate Shirley’s single bed and Howard’s double, crammed together, non-identical twins. Howard’s mattress, which still bore his prodigious imprint, was empty. The soft purr and hiss of the shower was audible from where Shirley and her rosy reflection sat facing each other, savouring the news that seemed still to effervesce in the atmosphere, like bubbling champagne.
Barry Fairbrother was dead. Snuffed out. Cut down. No event of national importance, no war, no stock-market collapse, no terrorist attack, could have sparked in Shirley the awe, the avid interest and feverish speculation that currently consumed her.
J.K. Rowling The Casual Vacancy (2012)
After a decade or so dealing primarily with the enchanted world of Harry Potter, JK Rowling has tried her hand at something closer to home, a state-of-England novel vaguely resemblant of Margaret Drabble’s works – incorporating crime and mystery and dealing with a group of people whose lives are supposed to epitomise the state of affairs in most English households. While Harry Potter series definitely is not a clichéd children’s book where the good always wins, but a story filled with violent, unpredictable, and unfair death and failure, The Casual Vacancy seems to be the cauldron in which Rowling has tried to pour all the gloomy deprivation of the real life as well as her almost palpable desire to target a primarily adult audience. The result, lamentably, is quite depressingly clichéd and quite banal.
The imaginary village of Pagford, Rowling’s Austenian rural microcosm packed with all typically English paraphernalia including the medieval abbey, cobbled streets, ivy-covered houses, and flocks of sheep, almost as idyllic as Hogsmeade prior to Voldemort’s attacks, is, however, inhabited by the most sordid muggles on the face of the earth and seething with all the most disagreeable aspects of the contemporary state of England. After the allegorically named Barry Fairbrother, a man of ‘boundless generosity of spirit,’ suddenly dies, leaving a casual vacancy in the parish council and plenty of space for all the political and personal turmoil to unravel, greed raises its ugly head and takes hold of the little piece of paradise that Pagford purports to be.
The Mollisons are definitely the Dursleys of The Causal Vacancy, endowed with the same brand of narrow-mindedness and pretentiousness, which is almost comical and, typically of Rowling, headed straight for the doom. Shirley Mollison’s awe, avid interest, and feverish speculation are echoed throughout Pagford, which proves to be a hot-bed of seething antagonism, rampant snobbery, sexual frustration, and omnipresent racism. The Casual Vacancy is brimming with all the dreary aspects of contemporary life squeezed into a very narrow circumference. Suicide, rape, drug abuse, sex, teenage pregnancy, xenophobia, domestic violence, infidelity, blatant racism, are all swathed into the cloak of decadent English countryside and steeped into plenty of rain and tea.
© 2016 Erna G. – All Rights Reserved