Thursday, December 20, 2012
As a sometime fan of dark fiction from the British Isles and Scandinavia it was evident to me that Rowling was using the same template as Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, and Kate Atkinson when she created the English village of Pagford and its environs. A veneer of respectability hides a rotting infrastructure of cruelty and class warfare in this little place where the have-nots struggle for a toe-hold while the haves try to push them over the ledge. Last year, when writing about Val McDermid’s book A Darker Domain, I described the literary genre known as tartan noir: “a form of Scottish crime fiction characterized by troubled protagonists and plots that deal with questions of redemption.” The Casual Vacancy is set squarely within this genre and if it isn’t crime fiction, it’s certainly close.
Some critics complained this book was too long and the plot needlessly convoluted. I will admit that the book’s central event (the death of a local politician and the fight to replace him among the town’s warring factions) was a risky choice. And I have to admit that it was hard to care about that particular outcome. What I cared very much about were the myriad of characters on the edges of this drama and their individual stories, which were touching, tragic, and funny, all at the same time. Especially well done were the book’s teenagers, as you might expect.
If you are wondering whether you should encourage your 13-yr-old Harry Potter fan to try this book, the answer is no. They will neither like nor understand it. A mature older teen will connect with some of the teen angst in the story but might be put off by the political machinations of the plot. Basically this is a book for grown-ups. Just like Rowling said. I hope she writes another one soon.
(Book 32, 2012)