Whilst I didn’t particularly enjoy reading the novel (I though it was overly long for what action there was – though I did finish it because I can’t leave a book half-way through), I thought the TV adaptation did a much better job of highlighting the key themes and making it more lively. It wasn’t my favourite programme, but it passed a few Sunday evenings, and, as many people have already highlighted, it raised some important issues that are often discussed in Religious Studies, ethics, or similar areas.
Its setting is the source of many of the issues: it is in a typically stuck-up white, middle class fictional town called Pagford. There is a token Asian family of Sikhs (though I don’t remember anything being said about their religion), which highlights issues of minorities in such towns and villages in the way that they are treated. It seems Rowling buys into stereotypes a bit too much with this family here, and the mother is also the local GP, and the father is a heart surgeon. With such high-achieving parents, it is not surprising that their daughter feels the pressure, but is bullied and self-harms. She shows character towards the end and risks her own life in attempting to save the youngster Robbie from drowning.
Local politics is an issue that is fundamental to the whole story. I don’t know what proportion of young people vote, or are interested in a career in politics, but the nature of the decisions this council has to make show that local politics are important because they affect everyone in the community, not just the middle class people who are interested in it. Barry, a local councillor who dies near the start of the story, is a champion of the council estate, whilst the other councillors seem happier to make it a part of a nearby town rather than their own. There is also debate about the future of the rehab centre, and so Dr Jawanda also fights the cause of the council estate residents. The election of a candidate to replace Barry is not representative of the council estate, with those who want the position seen to be power-hungry, self-serving, and ethically dubious. This shows that a lack of interest in your local area politics leads to others making decisions about your neighbourhood which may be contrary to what is in its best interests, and against residents views.
Medical ethics is also touched upon when the limits of doctor-patient confidentiality are oversterpped, when Dr Jawanda, in her fury at Howard, leader of the local parish council, reveals his medical problems at the dinner table to a number of guests.
There is the strong undercurrent of child abuse, being represented both in the council estate and the better off town centre. Andrew Price, the first pseudonymous blogger, and his brother are abused by their violent father. A seemingly well-to-do family, with all the latest gadgets, in a nice house, where behind closed doors the children are abused. The other example of abuse is more neglectful, and occurs more predictably on the council estate. Drug addict and prostitute Terri Wheedon is attempting to control her addiction but has many relapses, and also exposes her young son Robbie to prostitution. Her daughter Krystal is left to bring up Robbie, with the help of a social worker who tries to get Terri clean. This part of the story ends in tragedy for both siblings.
Finally, internet trolling is tackled, though I’m not sure the term ‘troll’ was even around when Rowling wrote the book. This begins with ‘The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother’ revealing some harmful truths about Simon Price, one of the election candidates, and stolen goods, in fact written by his son. Other teenagers then join in on the trolling, though stepping over the line between fact and fiction. Two professionals, a doctor and a teacher, are trolled with the effect that their career an livelihood is under threat. The motives for this range from having a laugh to revenge, but are equally harmful regardless of the intention of the writer.