Posts Tagged ‘J K Rowling’

In buying and reading this much talked about novel I have quite unashamedly jumped on the band wagon. Unlike many of the people reading and talking about this book, I have not read the Harry Potter books, I did see two of the films – when we took the children from the school where I work to see them – but that is the extent of my Harry Potter experience. I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting from the novel really, but I was curious nonetheless.

JK Rowling has already proved herself in a sense – she is a publishing phenomenon, and yet this much anticipated new novel for adults has been greeted by mixed reactions. There have been accusations that some of the content is Rowling’s attempt to prove that she is now a writer for adults. This book must represent something of a nightmare for JK Rowling, there will inevitably be those clamouring to shoot her down. With the Harry Potter series JK Rowling produced stories that people – adults and children alike – wanted to read, it seems a shame that an already successful author might feel the need to prove herself further, if indeed she does. I’m not convinced that she is trying to prove anything – why should she? – She has written a novel for adults, and most contemporary novels have some sexual content and swear words. Anyone expecting Harry Potter for grown-ups was going to be disappointed, from what I understand JK Rowling has made her position clear on Harry Potter – that she is finished with it. She has moved on, and therefore her writing will have too.

The setting is the delightful sounding small market town of Pagford in the South West of England, close to larger conurbation of Yarvil. When popular forty something Barry Fairbrother dies suddenly he leaves what is known as a casual vacancy on the Parish Council. It is a hotly contested seat, between two differing factions, those who want The Fields council estate to remain a part of Pagford and those who want it to be absorbed back into the sprawl of Yarvil. Barry originated from The Fields himself, and was a fierce defender of the estate and of Krystal Weedon, a foul mouthed daughter of a drug addict who he managed to get into the Pagford School attended by his own daughters. Barry had encouraged Krystal onto the rowing team he coached, and been the first and only person to show any belief in her.

“Krystal’s slow passage up the school had resembled the passage of a goat through the body of a boa constrictor, being highly visible and uncomfortable for both parties concerned.”

Several of the small town’s key residents have an interest in the vacancy on the Parish council. Howard Mollison as fiercely opposed to The Fields estate as Barry Fairweather was for it wants the seat for his solicitor son Miles. Colin Wall – Deputy Headmaster – and friend of Barry Fairweather wishes only to carry on the work started by Barry. There are though several other characters that are drawn into the drama, the Prices, with an abusing crooked father, the professional Sikh family the Jawandas with their self-harming daughter suffering at the hands of a cyber-bully. Kay Bawden newly moved to Pagford from London with her beautiful young daughter is the social worker temporarily assigned to the Weedon family, while her daughter Gaia is the subject of young Andrew Price’s teenage fantasies. Stuart “Fats” Wall, the Deputy headmaster’s son – glides along in a blithe unselfconsciousness – despising his parents among others, he has been best friends with Andrew Price for years – but even their friendship is tested and found wanting eventually.

“Fats was starting to think that if you flipped every bit of received wisdom on its head you would have the truth. He wanted to journey through dark labyrinths and wrestle with the strangeness that lurked within; he wanted to crack open piety and expose hypocrisy; he wanted to break taboos and squeeze wisdom from their bloody hearts; he wanted to achieve a state of amoral grace, and be baptised backwards into ignorance and simplicity.”

JK Rowling tells a good story – the characters are well developed and explored – there is plenty of scope for this in this 500 page novel. It is a page turner of a book once it gets going. There is, however, plenty of darkness in this story; JK Rowling has explored the dreadful differences and inequalities in society, the petty snobberies and prejudices that exist in small towns. There are some lighter moments – but they are not as funny as they could have been, because there is just so much unremitting misery for many of the characters, abuse, poverty, betrayal and unhappy families. There is nothing cosy about this novel of small town life. The writing is good – not particularly literary – but perfectly good and very readable – overall I enjoyed it a good deal. I do think that the story could have packed a mightier punch had it been a bit shorter, and had we not been hit over the head quite so much with the abuse, misery and bad language – sometimes less really is more. Still J K Rowling is known to be a good storyteller – and this is a good story with good characters that is really very readable.

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