This was a nasty book, I’d be tempted to write a deliciously nasty book, if there was anything delicious about it, but it doesn’t do delicious very well. A craftily nasty book, and a well crafted one at that. It makes me smile that it wasn’t very well received: could it be that reviewers and readers can’t really accept that the author of the Harry Potter series, tales of a hero triumphing over evil with the forces of good, could depict a rather different world? Well, she can.
And it doesn’t make for comfortable reading but I certainly found it to be a real page-turner.
The focal point is the battle over the future of a community oscillating between preserving the past and embracing modernity. The conflict becomes sharper after a local council member dies, and a “casual vacancy” needs to filled. But the plot is in actual fact a mere pretext, just providing a setting in which the inhabitants of Pagford can be scrutinised (is this a nod to D.L. Sayers, who provided her Lord Peter and Harriet Wimsey with a country cottage in Pagford? I hope not, the Wimseys are nice people.) There is no complacency in the scrutiny, and not much evidence of the milk of human kindness either. Men, women, forty-somethings, teenagers, rich and poor people, they are all exposed, the author dwelling on their anxieties, their weakness and pettiness.
Not a comfortable book, then, and not much fun either come to that, but eminently readable. This is the first time in a long time that I am breaking my rule of requiring that a book has to entertain and please. I normally want a book to include a positive or uplifting message somewhere, even it is sad or nasty, but I just shut up and read this time.