Julie Daunt reviews J.K. Rowling’s new “adult” novel, which will have many Potter fans surprised (to say the least!).
Firstly, let me get something straight. I was never a big fan of Harry Potter (shock horror!). Don’t get me wrong, I did read all the books and saw most of the films, but I was not willing to camp outside Eason’s to get my hands on the latest instalment. I didn’t buy into the ‘Potterganda’. So when I heard that Ms Rowling was releasing a new novel after five years, my expectations were not that high. These were not raised by reading the various blurbs and press releases regarding the story. How would this book differ from her wizard world? I grabbed myself a copy to find out.
The story of the novel revolves around a town called Pagford (similar sounding to Padfoot aka Sirius Black, although I’m probably just poking holes here) and the death of Barry Fairbrother (ah now, she could have thought of another name not stemming from “arry”). Through the first few pages we are introduced to a cast of characters of different ages and roles in this apparently idyllic village. However, all is not what it seems, and Barry’s death is the catalyst to the town’s breakdown as they need to find a replacement for his empty seat on the Parish council, his “Casual Vacancy”, as it were.
After reading the first few chapters, I was met with brain aneurysms, boners, sex, used condoms, heroin, smoking and lots of other activities for which Harry would have definitely lost some Gryffindor points. There’s also some swearing! And not just tame Ron Weasley-esque “git” or “bloody hell” either. However, the tone of the book is still very Rowling in style. She still describes everything in minute detail. She dedicates sections to detailing the cast of character’s reactions to Fairbrother’s death.
However, it is also clear from the outset that this story is not as happy-go-lucky and charming as Harry and Hogwarts. Quite the opposite in fact. Her detailed descriptions of ‘The Fields’, the council estate which backs onto Pagford, are bleak. Bleaker still are the events that take place there: drug use, rape and domestic violence to name a few. One such incident is where the social worker visits the Weedon household where the mother is a heroin addict and prostitutes herself to feed her habit, her son and daughter Krystal (whose story is perhaps the bleakest and most shocking in the book). It’s safe to say these characters and their lives are as far removed as you can possibly get from the magical exploits of a wizard hero. In this book there appears to be no escape to a far away castle away from the sordid and depressing reality.
If you don’t believe me, here’s a sample: “She tried to scream and he smacked her across the face – the smell of him was thick in her nostrils as he growled in her ear, ‘F***ing shout and I’ll cut yer.’” Critics have argued this book is the Dursley’s reincarnated and I agree. If you are an avid Harry Potter fan, this book may shock you somewhat. It is very different to her mystical series and I personally like this. While the parish council election story line seemed a little boring to me, it was her deliberate attempt to retell a completely different story that had me turning the pages. At the end of the day, it does seem to be a good story (better than Fifty Shades by far), but if you are expecting the same joyful and up-lifting effect of the Potter saga, you may be disappointed.