I picked up The Casual Vacancy with a world of wizards, duels and centaurs fresh in my mind but no sooner had I turned a few pages that I knew this wasn’t going to be anything about that, at least not apparently. It was almost as if someone had picked me up from my imaginary Thunderbolt and let me go to have me crashing back on the cold, hard Earth with a thud. Despite the thud been audible, it didn’t hurt quite as much as one would think.
For one, even though The Casual Vacancy is like holding a Mirror of Erised in your hands (considering how J.K. Rowling had everyone convinced that Harry Potter would be the last we’d see of her writings), it’s also like finding exactly as you are in it, maybe even with a few additional dirty socks.
With no Alohomoras and Accios to enchant the deep and unsettling message that’s wrapped in the contents, it threads bare the society in which we live in, in its most crudest forms. Call it as dissimilar as you may to Potter, the real magic of J.K. Rowling lies actually in the strength of her words. Her ability to have you believe that wherever you are and whatever you behold, is real.
To all the naysayers, laid out below are a few excerpts from the book that, if not stop the shaking of your head, might make you want to pause for a minute and wonder.
- “Stone dead,” said Howard, as though there were degrees of deadness, and the kind that Barry Fairbrother had contracted was pretty sordid.
- People in Krystal’s mother circle died prematurely with such frequency that they might have been involved in some secret war of which the rest of the world knew nothing.
- These familiar objects – his key fob, his phone, his worn old wallet – seemed like pieces of the dead man himself, they might have been his fingers, his lungs.
- He wore his school clothes with the disdain of a convict.
- “OK,” said Kay still standing, “If we can talk about this calmly.” “Oh, fuck off,” said Terri dully.
- He had clung to her, wanted her to stay for tea, cried when she left. It had been like having half your guts cut out of you and held hostage.
- Shrunken in the arm chair, a strange hybrid of old lady and child with her missing teeth, Terri’s gaze was vacant and inconsolable.
- Darkly clothed mourners moved, singly, in pairs and in groups, up and down the street, converging, like a stream of iron filings drawn to a magnet.
- She had lost her temper at him in the third shop, because he had looked like a scarecrow in everything he had tried on, gawky and graceless, and she had thought angrily that he could have inflated the suit with a sense of fitness if he chose.
- It was so good to be held. If only their relationship could be distilled into simple, wordless gesture of comfort. Why had humans ever learned to talk?
- She glared at him, struggling to articulate it for his pedantic legal mind, which was like a fiddling pair of tweezers in the way it seized on poor choices of word, yet so often failed to grasp the bigger picture.
- The power of the photographs of them together on her Facebook page had been blunted by his familiarity with them.
- His visit had been so brief that when Mary, slightly shaky, poured away his coffee it was still hot.
- You weren’t supposed to dislike your own child; you were supposed to like them no matter what, even if they were not what you wanted, even if they turned out to be the kind of person that you would have crossed the street to avoid had you not been related.
- “Yeah,” said Fats. “Fucking and dying. That’s it, innit? Fucking and dying. That’s life.”