Read to perfection by Tom Hollander, narrating in an understated way to allow the listener to feel the full impact of the words and deeds of the characters in this small town.
As has been said before this is very different in many ways from Harry Potter. However, the later HP books were darker and dealt with people's prejudices, festering emotional baggage, jealousies, abuse etc and all the novels share JKRs extreme attention to details so that I could really see the characters and the town so clearly as she cleverly describes through the eyes of the other characters. The themes in this novel can be seen in Harry Potter, depression, dominance, betrayal, homosexuality, anarchy, they simply are not so much at the fore.
This is a further iteration of the English village novel, however, it is not the usual bustling celebration but more the cracks that lay ugly and seeping below the beautiful chocolate box like veneer. The complacency, hypocrisy , selfishness, narrow-mindedness, ignorance, prejudice, abuse, double standards, ignorance and sheer unpleasantness of the great majority of the inhabitants of Pagford,nr Bristol, is a constant challenge to your senses. I found the story to be somewhat of a large heavy boulder slowly rolling down the hill. It starts off with the death of Councillor Barry Fairbrother and we are shown how his death impacts on certain members of the town in less than flattering ways. It takes quite a long time to get into all the characters and what they are about but suddenly, about 100 pages in, you begin to see what is going on and the boulder moves along swiftly.
JKR brings forward some characters who are rarely encountered, and insists we notice them standing blinking in the spot light. Most notable is Krystal, school age daughter of a drug addict, resident of a 'sink estate' as other people in the village would term it, foul mouthed, sexually promiscuous, and the carer of her 3 year old brother. She is both brave and desperately in need of affection. She is so very vulnerable and sadly misjudged by most of the village. Her expectations and dreams are so small and basic hey alone shout at the reader to care and open their eyes to what goes on around them. Krystal is one of a range of teenage characters who JKR is able to present persuasively, as if from the inside. Others include Sukhinder, a self-harming Sikh girl, from the only Asian family in the village; Andrew whose crush on Gaia is brought to life with complete conviction and who brings back vivid memories for the non-teenage reader; Gaia herself, exiled from London by her single parent mother's move from Hackney, privileged by good looks and sense of coolness is enraged by her mother's unpleasant boyfriend and uprooting her at the age of 16; and 'Fats', whose lacerating wit covers his unhappy home and hatred of his father. The families that these young people live in are mercilessly exposed by JKR as nests of mutual dislike, infidelity, abuse, rape, backstabbing and cruelty. Spattered amongst these parents are more likeable and emphatic characters who help cement you there.
JKR shows through the characters treatment of each other both sympathy and often contempt. Rowling's authorial presence dominates the narrative, imposing moral judgement, left and right. The narrative deliver's punishment to the wicked and then to the innocent as is JKR's way... she does not shy from gritty subjects. Most of the characters descriptions come from other peoples' minds and can be rather unflattering at times but extremely vivid. These descriptions become layered throughout the book as more people describe the character.
By the end of the book I really did care, especially about the children for whom JKR has a special insight and for the 'Fields' folk, who are so completely p******d on by the comfortably off. Judged and abandoned they were getting by as best as they could, surviving being victims of victims. No one walks out of this novel unscathed but there are some surprises in there. As we saw people's malice spring up from jealousy, avarice, anger and fear of what others might think, I had to pull back and just observe ... letting all judgements go was necessary. The last chapters of the book were especially real to me as they were told through the eyes of one of the teenagers, we were led away from the facade of an adult ritual and into the truth of who Krystal really was, her essence and more importantly what she could have been if more Barry Fairbrothers were out there championing and believing in people. Krystal's expectations and dreams are so small and basic they alone shout at the reader to open their eyes.
There is a wellspring of compassion in this author that is welcome in the world of contemporary fiction. While JKR has joined the higher echelons of wealth, her attitude appears to have not been altered. She no longer has to write, a nd is brave to set out after Harry Potter to stake a new claim, although I felt this is a cathartic process for her at some level. I hope she does so again, as she has something to tell us and hopefully if even the smallest part of these adults resides within us we will recognise them and ask the to leave the building..
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.