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A darker world

Rowling’s adult novel visits seedier side 

By Lucia Anderson

For The Free Lance-Star

J.K. ROWLING first burst into the limelight with the story of Harry Potter, the

unsuspecting boy wizard who ended up saving the world from the dark forces determined to use magic for their own evil ends. She created a wonderful world where games were played aboard flying broomsticks and owls delivered the mail.

With “The Casual Vacancy,” a novel written for adults, Rowling is back to the world as we know it, depressingly so. One misses Bertie Botts and Every Flavour Beans.

Rowling has set her tale in an unidentified corner of rural England. Pagford is one of those charming English villages that seem to exist purely for wall calendars and jigsaw puzzles.

But all is not well in bucolic Pagford. The Parish Council is bitterly divided over what to do with the Fields, a subsidized housing development that is home to drug addicts, prostitutes and welfare families. The development is the property of neighboring Yarvil, but that city has saddled Pagford with financial and educational responsibilities for the area that infuriate many residents. They want to shift the Fields back to Yarvil. Others, however, want to help the residents of the Fields by keeping it attached to Pagford.

So when the chief pro-Fields member of the Parish Council dies suddenly, the resulting casual vacancy precipitates an eruption of competing forces to fill it.

The author who could convincingly create such disparate characters as Hagrid and Professor Dumbledore has no problem with the various village residents. There’s the self-satisfied head of the Parish Council, full of contempt for the residents of the Fields. There’s the abusive father who thinks nothing of raining blows on his wife and sons. The Sikh family, both parents doctors, who cannot fathom the depths of their daughter’s distress. And the addicted mother whose daughter is trying desperately to keep her family together.

Rowling still has a telling way with a phrase: “to express these feelings out loud would have been tantamount to dancing naked and shrieking obscenities, and Howard and Shirley were clothed, always, in an invisible layer of decorum that they never laid aside.”

This is a dark novel, full of pain and hopelessness. The young people, especially, struggle with bullying and abuse, rebellion and abandonment. But the grown-ups have their own angsts and passions to deal with.

In the end, two more are dead, the proud are deflated and the problem of the Fields remains. There’s no magic in the real world.

Lucia Anderson is a freelance writer in Woodbridge.


By J.K. Rowling

(Little Brown, $35, pp.)


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