Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Dudley Town [Review: The Casual Vacancy]

Not so long ago I read a series of novels, each opening with the exploits of a complex but sympathetic child, spoilt but misunderstood by his parents, the subject of so many misfortunes and bizarre happenings, somehow always cast as the bully. Sadly for the most part, these novels left poor Dudley Dursley's tragicomic plight unresolved while following the adventures of some annoying kid who goes to boring wizard school.

There's no sign of a Dudley Dursley spin-off yet, although surely it's only a matter of time. However J.K.Rowling's "novel for adults" The Casual Vacancy can at least act as a temporary fix - it's set amongst an entire town of Dursley-ish neurotic and insecure middle-classers, desperately trying to keep their idyllic village separate from the nearest council estate. Small-mindedness doesn't get any smaller than UK local politics, and the novel begins with the death of a much-loved councillor who had championed the cause of the estate.

At times this still seems like a children's novel: the village teenagers play a large role and part of the story is told from their viewpoint, including their own understanding of their parents' lies, secrets and scandalous dealings. The characters and their long trains of thought are undeniably Rowling - perhaps this is a key element of a Rowling-trademark style. Also despite the many topical issues that crop up, there's the sense of writing for a readership from a previous age that also permeated the boarding-school world of Harry Potter.

The main purpose of this novel seems to be for J.K. Rowling to let off some steam - free from the constraining world of children's literature she can write freely about sex, drugs, death and the unfairness of the adult world, leading to a traumatic climax and ending that I doubt she could have pulled off for Potter. Or could she? Other writers such as Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson have successfully written children's fiction that brings in adult realities.

I thought this was an excellent although perhaps not outstanding novel. It's certainly enjoyable and occasionally shocking.


Robert Morschel said...

Hmm, and there I was hoping I might at last read JK... I missed out on the Harry Potter madness.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

How did you manage to miss it? Tibetan monastery? Shipwrecked on a desert island? Asteroid hide-out?

Meerabai said...

When JKR said this book is for adults she really meant it. Full of drugs, sex, child abuse and politics, this book can give nightmares to her usual Harry Potter fans.

But whats disappointing in this book is not the adult content, but the insufficient or late description of the characters which doesn't help a reader in visualizing the character properly. Also the story has too many sub plots of people trying to screw each other.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Harsh but fair, on both counts - but I think even these make sense if the book was written as a kind of Harry Potter catharsis...