77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very dark departure
Do you remember when Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe did that play where he was nude and smoked to distance himself from the kid-friendly HP series? Well, this is the literary equivalent for JK Rowling. This book IS NOT HARRY POTTER, or anything like it. It's a dark view of the lives of "ordinary" citizens in a British town. A parish council leader dies suddenly,...
Published 7 months ago by A. Volk
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Torturous reading
As a JKR/Potter fan, I was deeply disappointed at this slow-paced, mind-boggling adult scenario of low-life characters. I could not understand the character relationships without creating family trees, a tedious process which was necessary to get through the book to the lack-luster ending, (I refuse to use the term 'climax') - which was a foregone conclusion anyway...
Published 5 months ago by Janette Lachance
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77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very dark departure,
This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)Do you remember when Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe did that play where he was nude and smoked to distance himself from the kid-friendly HP series? Well, this is the literary equivalent for JK Rowling. This book IS NOT HARRY POTTER, or anything like it. It's a dark view of the lives of "ordinary" citizens in a British town. A parish council leader dies suddenly, leaving a "casual vacancy" to be filled. This story is about how that happens, but really, it's more about the people who it happens to. The parents as well as their adolescent children. In that regard, we see some of the old JK Rowling as she spends a lot of time looking at the lives of teenagers.
Only this book is completely R-rated. Violence, abuse, nudity, drugs, crime, and severely adult language are found throughout the book. This is most certainly not something you'd want your child to be reading. So I get the impression that, like so many famous actors or writers, this is Rowling's attempt to show that she can do more than just the series that made her famous.
So does it work? I think so. It's not the best modern fiction that I've read, but it's not the worst. If you know what you're getting, a dark, sometimes satirical look into modern family lives, then yes, the book works. I found the teenagers to be at least as interesting as their parents, if not more so. While it was hard to find a lot of sympathetic characters in this book, at least the characters are generally interesting. The story does tend to drag on a little in the middle parts, but it then whips forward to a satisfying conclusion.
So should you buy it? Well, that depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for anything similar to Harry Potter, take a pass. The only similarity is that adolescents play a major role in the book. If you are looking for deep, thought-provoking literature, you might also want to take a pass. There are lessons told by the book, but it's not a moralistic essay. If you want something that reads like a sometimes funny, sometimes bleak, soap opera, you're getting warmer. If you, like me, are looking to see if JK Rowling can write beyond Harry Potter, then yes, this is worth getting. Ultimately, this is a dark story carried by Rowling's ability to make you care about (some of) the people, despite their ugly warts. I liked it, not loved it, and it was good enough to convince me that Rowling can write beyond Hogwarts. But it really left me curious to see where Rowling goes from here now that she's clearly opened up some space for herself by writing something that clearly distances herself from Harry Potter. So if you like dark fiction or are curious about Rowling's writing, then The Casual Vacancy is certainly worth a look.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book To Live In,
This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)Welcome to Pagford.
It is a picture perfect little town: rolling hills, ancient abbey, cobbled streets, charming houses and colourful inhabitants. However, like everything that looks perfect, secrets run rampant through Pagford’s streets, waiting for the moment to be set free.
That moment arrives in the death of Barry Fairbrother. After suffering an aneurism on the night of his wedding anniversary, the town of Pagford becomes torn. With Barry’s death, a Casual Vacancy arises, a seat left vacant on the Parish Council due to death.
There are a few hopefuls vying for the coveted seat: Howard Mollison wants his son Miles to take the seat so that Miles can help Howard rid Pagford of The Fields, a rundown part of town home to a methadone clinic. Howard is thrilled at Barry’s death as Howard may finally rid Pagford of an eyesore. Miles’ wife Samantha, however, is less than thrilled and begins to fantasize about much younger boys.
Collin Wall, Deputy Head minister of the local high school, also wants to run for the vacant seat. As Barry’s former best friend, Collin thinks Barry would have wanted him to carry on his work, bringing The Fields and Pagford together, instead of tearing them apart.
Tessa Wall, who is the school guidance counselor, is more concerned over the antics of their son Stuart “Fats” and his association with Krystal Weedon and the mental state of her husband if he actually wins the seat; Collin hides a secret that could ruin him if exposed.
Simon Price also wants to run, despite having isolated himself from the community. His wife, Ruth, approves of him running because she is used to agreeing. It is the only way to keep him from getting angry. Often abusive to his two sons, Andrew “Arf” and Paul, taking in stolen goods and stealing from his place of work, Andrew wonders what would happen to his father if his secrets got out.
Even those not hoping to fill the casual vacancy are affected by Barry Fairbrother’s death: Parminder, who harbors secret feelings of her own, lavishes attention on one daughter while degrading her other daughter Sukhvinder who cuts herself to release the pain. Kay, a social worker who has just been assigned to help Terri Weedon and her children Krystal and Robbie as their mother struggles with heroin addiction.
There’s also Gaia, Kay’s daughter, who is bereft at leaving London because her mother followed her noncommittal boyfriend Gavin Wall to Pagford. Gavin, who knows he never should have let his relationship with Kay go so far is only concerned with ending the relationship and the love he holds close for another woman. Let’s not forget Shirley Mollison, Howard’s wife, who has her own secret agenda or Maureen, Howard’s business partner, who does whatever Howard says; Or what about Mary Fairbrother who had grown to dislike her husband and his growing attachment to Krystal Weedon?
Pagford is a picture perfect little town. Like anything that looks perfect, there is shadow underneath. What would happen if that shadow were exposed? What if the secrets of those in town were exposed, out in public? Would Pagford hold itself together, or would cracks begin to appear in its postcard image?
Before the Casual Vacancy is filled, the town of Pagford will find out and no one will be the same…
I wasn’t expecting to like The Casual Vacancy, much less love it. This has nothing to do with the fact that it’s not the next Harry Potter book. I knew going into The Casual Vacancy to have no expectations because it was decidedly not Harry Potter. Rowling’s first book for adults couldn’t be more different than that other fictional world she created, but a small town political novel just didn’t sound thrilling to me.
There was also the fact that, from the first page, I knew that The Casual Vacancy wasn’t going to be a quick read. The tone of the writing is completely different and I knew it would not feature the wicked fast plot of the Harry Potter novels. However, I read on anyways, knowing that Rowling is a good writer and hoping for a good story.
Well, I was wrong. J K Rowling is an incredible writer and in The Casual Vacancy she had penned an amazing novel with an amazing story. The Casual Vacancy actually has very little to do with the politics surrounding the title. Instead, it is really a study of the people who live in Pagford and the whims of human nature.
I suspect that the title of J K Rowling’s new novel is really a play on words. A Casual Vacancy is a situation in which a political assembly’s seat is declared vacant through resignation, disqualification or death. However, due to the nature of all of Pagford being involved and the possibility of an election that has split the town and those that want the vacant seat for their own ends, there is nothing casual about this vacancy.
As I read, I was reminded of many different authors. If I had to compare it to anything (although Rowling has written it so well that The Casual Vacancy is really incomparable), I would say it’s a mix of Charles Dickens, Maeve Binchy, Minette Walters and Meg Rosoff. The Casual Vacancy is bleak, gut wrenching, horrifying, frightening but also joyful and surprisingly funny. It’s a book that defies genres and boundaries.
Rowling’s strength as a writer has never been more noticeable than with The Casual Vacancy. Her characters are so well drawn that you identify with each and every one of them and the further you read, the more you become involved in their lives. Multiple storylines criss cross and meet up with each other and it takes a writer of the highest caliber to keep all of the intersecting characters and storylines straight and still tell an amazing story. Surprisingly, the young adult characters in this novel (Andrew, Stuart, Gaia, Shukvinder, Krystal) play a larger role than I thought possible in a “political novel”. Rowling’s adult characters are just as well drawn and as you watch all of their lives intersect, you wonder how Rowling can possibly tie everything together in the end. Thankfully, she does it with grace and style and an ending I never, ever saw coming.
Make no mistake, though, this is an adult novel. In the pages of The Casual Vacancy, you’ll find drugs and drug use, sex, racism, prejudice, rape, theft, poverty, cutting and self-abuse. However, you will also find laughter, humour, joy, determination and hope. It is a novel less about politics than it is about the people who make up a community.
The Casual Vacancy is beautifully written and incredibly told. It is not a novel for the faint of heart, but is also a novel so full of heart that the characters within it will stay with me for the rest of my life. It made me laugh out loud, made me cry in public, had me rooting for some characters and loving to hate others.
It is a book you do not merely read; instead, you live inside of it until the last turn of the page and beyond.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging, heart-wrenching and memorable,
This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)I can understand why a lot of people either dislike or don't know what to make of this book. Rowling presents a set of deeply flawed, complex, and (in my opinion) all-too-real characters; none of whom are easily or completely likeable, just like people in real life. For me, this has always been the core strength of her writing (granted that the Harry Potter series was slightly and understandably more black-and-white in this regard). It took me two weeks to finish The Casual Vacancy because, for the first hundred or so pages, I also did not know what to make of this book. I felt uncomfortable being confronted with situation after situation where the injustices of life and the unpleasantness of the human condition screamed at me for pages on end. I recognized pieces of myself and the people I've known in these characters. And then as the days pressed on and I read a few more chapters each night, I gradually found myself eager to come home and spend more time getting to know these characters; not because I was expecting some thrilling, suspenseful narrative climax (there is none), but because Rowling is a master of capturing the complexities of what it means to be human in all its many forms.
Is this book fantastic literature? That is debatable. The strength of the prose comes and goes and there were only a few passages so eloquently worded and I stopped to really soak them in. But for me, Rowling has accomplished in this text what I have come to know her for; she has created a set of rounded and complex characters that will continue to linger with me long after I have finished reading the book (which, for me, is rare when I read fiction). Furthermore, Rowling presents what seems to be a scathing critique of certain sociopolitical ideologies, which is another reason why I can understand some people are put off by the text. However, knowing how many people would read this because it is written by JK Rowling, I respect her all the more for using the opportunity to present such a vital and relevant message (particularly since it is done in such a subtle, non-preachy, non-moralistic way, in my opinion). She could have penned us a happy, easy-to-swallow story about easily likeable characters, but instead she chose to challenge herself and her readership, likely with an understanding that many people would be taken aback, confused, and even bitter. All in all, The Casual Vacancy has left me with new-found respect for the woman who brought me Harry Potter, and I look forward to reading what she comes up with next.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What goes on behind the net curtains,
This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)Firstly I listened to the audio version which was 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..
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For the Patient Reader,
This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)I think people were eager to either love or hate this novel blindly. Unlike the Harry Potter series, it is not relying on plot to drive it forward, but relies on the development of characters in slow-burning narration. I think this is a great novel. When I wasn't reading it, I thought about the characters and the town and impatiently waited until I could continue on. However, I can understand why people may not have liked it, as I notice that fewer people are interested in stories that are driven by the drama of daily life. If you are able to dedicate yourself to the stories of the people and the way their lives and decisions intertwine, you will find this novel immensely satisfying.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There's nothing casual about this book,
This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)I purposely didn't read any reviews or even a plot summary of The Casual Vacancy before reading it. I didn't want to know anything about it, anything that might taint or distort my reading before I had even turned the title page. I wanted to have as pure of an experience as possible with the text. I wasn't sure if I should post a review so soon after its release (a week ago yesterday), in case others had the same feeling about it. So if you do: read no further! Stop here and go get The Casual Vacancy and read it and then come back and finish reading this post (because I do want you to read this post, I'll be honest with you.)
So, let's get to it, shall we?
The Casual Vacancy begins with the death of the middle-aged Barry Fairbrother, a pillar of the small fictional community of Pagford. Barry's death is unexpected and, as the news spreads in a ripple-effect, causes a great deal of uncertainty and sorrow to several townspeople.
As a member of the parish council, his seat is now empty and must be filled as soon as possible. Barry was the leader of the fight to allow the Fields, a low-income housing project built on Pagford land and home to a methadone clinic and drug treatment centre, to still have access to the schools and amenities of the town. The committee remained split on the issue, but with Barry gone, Howard Mollison - the enormously overweight and overbearing committee chair - is poised to end the battle and do away with the treatment centre once and for all.
However, the election for a new member of the council is not the focus of this book; rather, it acts as the vehicle through which the reader is given a free pass to see the private inner workings of the people of Pagford. We are able to act as the voyeur to the thoughts of teens struggling with love and sex, abusive parents, rape, and acts of self-injury. We see marriages desperately held together by delusion, mutual political interests, and religious obedience. Everyone in Pagford, it seems, is miserable, but afflicted with too much pride or fear to admit it.
It bears stating: This is not a book written for young adults, nor would they perhaps even enjoy it. It's a heavy text - both literally (it's 500+ pages) and figuratively - there were moments when the subject matter made me cringe with its painful realism.
But I really loved it.
In true Rowling form, the book is dripping with description. But not the mundane description of something like Lord of the Rings (pages and pages detailing the colour of the trees)*; the sort of information that makes you feel as though you are sitting at the dinner table with the Mollisons, fully aware of the tension between every single person at the table, and there's nothing you can do about it. That, my friends, is good writing.
I also love stories where every character is connected in some way, and I love how Rowling has written the text. She seamlessly transitions between one character's thoughts into another's, so perfectly that several times I didn't realize it had happened. I've never read an omniscient 3rd person narrative like this before, and I think it's impeccably done. I became so wrapped up in a certain characters and storylines that I couldn't put the book down, for need to see how it was going to end for them.
I've read a few criticisms that Rowling writes the children superbly but falls short on the adults. I disagree with the latter half. I think the adults are realistic and relatable. I felt a particular affection for Tessa, a guidance counsellor with a neurotic husband, insufferable know-it-all son "Fats", and she is a recently diagnosed diabetic whose life is too stressful to worry about the affect of the chips on her midsection.
Perhaps my main criticism of The Casual Vacancy is that none of the characters are particularly likeable. In fact, I found myself disparing halfway through about the poor Pagfordians and their misery of living in a town where everyone has ulterior motives. It's not my reality, but maybe it's the reality for someone, and maybe that's the awful truth Rowling is trying to tell us.
I absolutely can't deny that my adoration of J.K. Rowling influenced my opinion of this book a bit. But I still think it's an interesting story and, for me, the style alone is enough to read it cover to cover. Either way, it's great to have her back.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars eye opener,
This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)I loved this book. I have read all the Harry Potter books and I thought this book was written brilliantly. At the beginning, I did find it confusing to get all the characters straight, but after I did, WOW!
You were able to get into everyone's thoughts and why they did what they did. I live in a small town and I find this division between the town's people and the farmers exist, also between the "hardworking people" and the people who need social assistance. It was eye opening to see how and why people act the way they do. People judging each other and missing the real person.
To the people who say they couldn't finish the book. Wake up! This is real life. Drug addicts are drug addicts because they are trying to shield themselves from emotional pain. It was an insider's view to all the character's lives and how whether you are educated, rich, or on assistance, everyone has a past and everyone has problems.
Many thanks to J K Rowling for writing this book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Courage to Choose,
This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)J.K. Rowling's first foray into adult fiction, "The Casual Vacancy," begins with Barry Fairweather, town councilman of Pagford and all-around good guy, suddenly drops dead; this creates a "casual vacancy" on the town Council and very soon the race is on to fill that empty seat. The town is divided about a number of issues, particularly the question of whether it has responsibility for the Fields, a housing estate/slum, or whether the larger city of Yarvil should take over the administration of that area, and people who are on all sides of this problem begin vying for the vacant seat in the hopes of subsequently being able to push their particular opinion through. Barry himself came from the Fields and has always supported the people there, in particular Krystal, a teenage girl living under extremely difficult circumstances; but most of the other townspeople see Krystal, and indeed everybody in the Fields, as nothing but a waste of space.... How the various townspeople go about asserting their agendas makes up the bulk of the story, and how the reader feels about the book depends largely on how they feel about the characters and who they most agree with. I was most taken by Rowling's undiminished ability to create very believable characters and the way she makes the reader care about these people, even when the majority of them are quite unpleasant. I completely fell into the world of Pagford and was quite sad when I reached the end of the book - I could do with another six novels set there! Recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Torturous reading,
This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)As a JKR/Potter fan, I was deeply disappointed at this slow-paced, mind-boggling adult scenario of low-life characters. I could not understand the character relationships without creating family trees, a tedious process which was necessary to get through the book to the lack-luster ending, (I refuse to use the term 'climax') - which was a foregone conclusion anyway. Left me with more questions than answers.
Save you money and sanity!!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars She did it again!,
This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)A wonderful book from an amazing writer! I really loved this book and could not put it down while I was reading it. It's surprising, different and unexpected, but so captivating!
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The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Hardcover - Sep 27 2012)
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