Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Rowling Offers a Bleak View of Humanity; Book Review; Novel for Adults Is Devoid of Magic

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Rowling Offers a Bleak View of Humanity; Book Review; Novel for Adults Is Devoid of Magic

Article excerpt

Actors who have had a long, successful run in a particular role and find themselves typecast are apt to undertake radically different parts to break out of their molds. J.K. Rowling, who enthralled millions with Harry Potter and his world of magic and Muggles, may have accomplished her own image-breaking with "The Casual Vacancy."

Rowling advised interviewers that "Vacancy" - the term refers to a parish council seat that has been left empty by death - is not a children's book. That's an understatement: Although there are some brilliant flashes of humor, it's otherwise gritty, frequently sordid and scatological, filled with graphic descriptions of sexual acts, including a horrifying rape, and adorned with a generous supply of a common vulgarism for copulation.

More than that, "Vacancy" is a bleak story with a bleak view of human nature, and hardly a likable character in it. It's as if Rowling, in Thomas Hardy mode, set out to fill a book with a complete collection of small-minded, selfish Dursleys, both adult and adolescent, but without much relief from their worldview.

The postcard-pretty village of Pagford has a ruined abbey high on a hill, a lovely view, a charming square and a population of people who are delineated here primarily by their faults. There are self- righteous victors and self-loathing victims, each one's faade pulled back by the author to reveal a dark, bubbling stew of mixed venial and mortal sins.

Pagford is, as its more complacent residents see it, saddled with the Fields, a grimy, hopeless government-owned housing development for the poor, home to junkies, whores and worse. A chance arises to hand off the Fields and its troublesome residents to the nearby town of Yarvil, but the Parish Council is divided on the subject.

Then Barry Fairbrother, a councilman who made it out of the Fields and into middle-class life in Pagford, the chief force against unyoking the development, dies unexpectedly. (His death from a cerebral hemorrhage, told from his point of view, opens the book.) Howard Mollison, the obese and supremely self-satisfied chair of the council and First Citizen of Pagford, and his wife, Shirley, see an opportunity to stack the council with an ally: their son, Miles. …

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