J.K. Rowling – The Casual Vacancy

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Book Review published in Italian on my Italian website,

on the literary magazine Leggere Donna 161/2013, and on Bookavenue

Before writing mine, I’ve read many reviews about The Casual Vacancy, the first novel for adults signed by the creator of Harry Potter. Actually, there’s any kind of review, but on the web there’s above all plentiful of negative opinions together with that sadistic touch of intellectuals who love knocking too successful artists off their pedestal. But the trick doesn’t work. J.K. Rowling is so talented and rich that she takes the liberty to write whatever she wants…

Anyway, some people still believe that writers for adults and writers for children are separated by an irreparable fracture. They think that moving from one world to the other is a taboo. And there’s also who thinks that writers for children are (in some way or another) “inoffensive”.

However, from the moment that I’m more than thirty and still founding my way of life even on books like Momo, Pippi Longstocking and Mathilda… I don’t want to say anything on the matter. However, I think it’s absurd to consider Harry Potter a work for children and most of all an “inoffensive” book. We all remember the crowds of fort-year-olds with their book in the briefcase and the anathemas of Joseph Ratzinger. Thus who thinks that the first official “adult” novel by J.K. Rowling doesn’t aim to scratch the reader’s soul… has not yet considered who we are talking about.

But let’s move from Harry Potter. With lucid disenchantment the book analyzed the mechanism of power, the corruption of the human soul, the betrayal of the Self, and the weight of the individual choice. If Voldemort’s model certainly was Hitler, the novel really examined ourselves’ psychological shades. Voldemort was the extreme of malignant narcissism; the incapacity to give up, the refusal of death, the absence of feelings different from hate, the sense of omnipotence, and the mania for possession. Anyway, if Voldemort was the absolute evil – the man who disintegrated his soul and transformed himself in a lifeless creature in order to gain eternity – it was on his “entourage” that J.K. Rowling built her story.

In The Casual Vacancy, Voldermort is a great absent. Probably he has not yet found his way to regain a body for his disfigured soul, so there’s no need of Harry Potter to fight him. Thus we can simply observe the machineries of his human servants.

And here they are. J.K. Rowling’s hand lens stops on a small town in the British countryside, the neat and affected Pagford. The center is a tidy cobbled square from which harmoniously branch a school, a delicatessen shop, and the Parish Council building. A handful of kilometers separates Pagford from more mundane and indecorous Yarvil. The hills mercifully obscure the sight of the recent poor areas and the ruins of an ancient abbey dominate Pagford like a patron saint. But what hides behind the nice windows of Pagford?

The dark side of small-town mentality – with the hypocrisy and meanness of its social relationships – surely is the topic of this choral novel. Old Voldemort struggles to withstand comparison. These new villains betray everyone and everything (starting from themselves), attend the town church on Sundays, and do voluntary works as well.

A glance at the plot. Barry Fairbrother – the ultimate bulwark of a politics really “pro-community” – suddenly dies leaving behind him what is called “a casual vacancy” in the Parish Council. It is an unexpected death that cracks the balance of an invisible web of hates and alliances, and set the premises for Pagford’s microcosm to crumble down and slip towards tragedy. It is a war between old Britain and new paupers but it fits Italian reality as well. The winner will gain the seat in the Parish Council, deciding the destiny of the entire community.

Pagford is thus examined under a microscope in order to delicately remove every mask. We find out that the community is an amalgam of separated clans around which a fistful of desperate outsiders wander in search of love. People meet at the delicatessen but couldn’t live in a deeper incommunicability. Community doesn’t exist. Truth is banned. No one knows the others. Everyone knows everything. Each person carries invented certainties with which attacks the others and supports his (public and private) identity in the hope that it won’t crumble down.

However, a ghost is proceeding toward this world of adults who exchange poetry and love for a life of pathetic certainties. A series of enigmatic messages appears on the Parish Council website. Masks and beliefs are undermined one after the other until the horrific decay of the souls will show itself in broad daylight. But at that point, only the sacrifice of a pure gem will be able to halt the dies irae…

As usual, J.K. Rowling has regard for children. They will inherit the world but aren’t given the possibility to survive a reality of falseness and compromises. I think this politically incorrect book – written without the pressure of publishers and for the mere pleasure of saying the truth – is simply wonderful.

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