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on October 8, 2012
Having read some of the more negative views, I have to say this: Would you have ranked "1984", "The Bluest Eye", "The Grapes of Wrath", or "Great Expectations" so badly? Guess what, some of the best stories aren't fun-filled light reading! Some of the best works are disturbing, even sad. So, if your view of literature is that a book can only be worthwhile if you can breeze through it having a fun adventure, then don't bother with this book. This is something else entirely.

That said, "The Casual Vacancy" is a disturbing character study. It is written in third-person omniscient point of view. It does require some effort to handle a story with some 18 or so viewpoint characters, so this book will be at too high a reading level for some. I normally don't like the omniscient POV, but this story had to be told that way and Rowling handles it with expertise.

So, what is this book about? It is about pain and cruelty and why people become cruel. There are no traditional protagonists or antagonists, just people going through life. Rowling explores the various ways that people become cruel, angry, or jaded with each main character showing a different form of cruelty and a different reason for it. And, this book is about the people that get hurt by other people's pain and anger.

This isn't an easy book to read, probably the reason so many have reviewed it negatively. But, this is a brilliantly written book, just not for everyone.

This novel is written with a seldom-seen narrative structure. In this structure the story begins with a simple, perhaps commonplace, connection between a group of people (in this case, someone dies, which has some effect on each of these characters). The narrative then explores how each character's life led him or her to be present for that connecting event and then the character moves on past the single event. As this structure is used for a character study, the connecting event may not even be particularly important. Instead, we see a collection of interconnected characters as the main thrust of the novel, rather than a single story unfolding. In this case, we follow how the death at the beginning of the novel affects approximately 18 characters.

I highly recommend this book to those who want to read something thought-provoking and actually about the real world. But, if you want some light reading that you don't have to think about, then stay away from "The Casual Vacancy".

To those who reviewed it negatively because it wasn't like Harry Potter, I can only ask whether they were paying attention. Rowling explored many of these themes, hidden behind the window dressing of fantasy, in those books. That is why Harry Potter was not just another of the countless stories about magical children. She continues this exploration in "The Casual Vacancy", but without the magic and without the restrictions of children's literature.

Edited to add: I realize that Rowling has described this as a dark comedy. I don't know why she has said that. Perhaps she had intended this to be a comedy, and there are some satirical scenes, but it grew into something else as she developed and revised it. Whatever the case, I saw very little that was humorous in this book. I did greatly appreciate the book, but I don't know why she would claim it was a comedy, dark or otherwise.
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on October 7, 2012
I am an avid reader, however I never make reviews of the books I read on amazon, this is the first one I am posting. I felt that I needed to do something to try and fight back against all these unwarranted 1 star reviews (which I have read through, and find their points appalling).

The first thing is that even when people are saying that they are not comparing this novel to Harry Potter, they clearly are. Harry Potter is a fantasy series that is heavily plot driven and was originally targeted at children. The Casual Vacancy is a book based on several months in one setting focusing on the lives of a group of people. So my first piece of advice is read the blurb. J. K. Rowling clearly defined what this book was about from the very beginning; so if you are not someone who will enjoy this genre of novel, even if you do love Rowling, don't read it. It is not comparable in anyway to Harry Potter, so why are people who obviously do not like books dealing with current issues and want to read about some hero overcoming evil bothering to read it at all.

Secondly I have read a lot of people complaining about the characters because they are not likeable. I, however, found them very entertaining and am sad to have parted with them. They are not likeable in the sense that I approve of their actions and I think they are good people, but they are extremely vivid characters that you feel like you know and can envisage perfectly. The characters are all quite self-centred and fail to think about anything other than their own betterment. Why is everyone whining about this? Am I the only person who has had any experience with people in the real world? Many, many people are like this. Their world revolves around "the self", they are wrapped up in a tight little bubble of "me, me, me" and do not see the ways in which they could improve the lives of others. So even if they are unlikeable, their concerns and attitudes (after learning of their personal life circumstances) are actually quite realistic.

It is through these characters and their self-centredness that Rowling explores many current issues that are very contentious and I feel like she does this very well and very realistically. Not every protagonist is made of sunshine and rainbows, and when Rowling released this book she made it clear that it was not about a hero on a mission. This book is about everyday people dealing with everyday issues and their lives in a small town. Even if the characters are not likeable they all have something that can be related too. She deals with issues like abuse, neglect, health issues, marriage and relationships, first loves, suicide, people on both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum and many others. If such topics are not ones that interest you then this book is not for you. I feel that too many people have picked this up simply because she is J. K. Rowling; so make sure that you are interested in the matters she is dealing with here before reading it. Perhaps a pen name would have invited better feedback because then people would have read this book because of the story, rather than the author.

Despite the very different type of tale this is to Harry Potter it still carries Rowling's wonderful way with words. She describes things vividly and callously and she makes the town and the people come to life. After reading this book I feel like I know Pagford so well that I should stop by there next time I am in England, even though it is a fictional town. This is how well she describes it. She uses her usual humour to make boring situations interesting and descriptions of plain things exciting.

I feel that J. K. Rowling should be given the full credit she deserves for writing this book. It is an individual entity and deserves to be judged as such. Readers need to stop comparing this to Harry Potter or J. K. Rowling and just take it for what it is. So please, rather than reading it because of the author and then giving poor feedback because it wasn't for you, acknowledge what this book is actually about before you pick it up.

Personally, I found it to be a very interesting read and it has provided me with many things to think about regarding today's society in Western countries.
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on September 27, 2012
Throwing in my two cents as one of the few people on the planet who hasn't read the HP series. (My kids were the perfect age as the books came out: young enough to love them, old enough to read for themselves.) I pre-ordered THE CASUAL VACANCY and inhaled it the minute it hit my Kindle mainly (I will admit) because it's a remarkable moment of publishing history, but I was quickly drawn into the story. The characters are people I already know, because they are the people we all already know. In the end, I liked this book on its own merits. And I liked it a lot.

Rowling is a terrifically strong writer; you can't fault her on craft, and I like that she doesn't feel the need to do any acrobatics or post a billboard - THIS WAY TO THE BRILLIANT WRITER - on every page, as is the irritating case in a lot of literary fiction. If you're able to set aside the JK ROWLING of it all, you'll love or hate this book on the strength of what it says about people. Folks. Relationships that are the opposite of magic. Politics that are petty. The youthful compulsion to crusade - at any age - and the crusty compulsion to squash the crusading of others.

Early on, it's noted that Samantha "enjoyed [Miles'] pomposity with precisely the same spirit as she liked, on formal occasions, to wear a hat," and Rowling is able to enjoy the faults of these characters the same way. These are the characters Franzen would write if he had more tenderness and less literary dyspepsia. Observations about resonant, everyday dynamics - conversational currency, backhanded charity, the lie of self-sacrifice - are made with more wry than sly and not a whiff of self-righteousness.

This is a quiet book; some will say cozy, but I think there's enough edge to prevent that. I loved the dry Britcom humor. A thousand little understated zingers make THE CASUAL VACANCY a pleasure to read in the way that the Mapp and Lucia books are a pleasure. As life unravels for the people of Pagford, we have a goldfish bowl view, but that understated tone keeps things from going totally soapy.

A book that kept coming back to me as I read was Joseph Heller's Something Happened. I can't think of another instance where an author from whom so much was expected took on the profoundly risky task of reminding us that there is nothing more human than the mundane.
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on September 27, 2012
Just to set the record straight on Casual Vacancy, I was given a copy as a gift. When you read the book, you need to forget this is the same author who gave us Mr.Potter's world of magic. This is set in a tiny English town and deals with politics,class struggle,poverty,drug use,child abuse,rape,self-mutilation, suicide, pedophilia,mental illness and other ugly realities. Much to her credit the author does this with sharp comic wit, however it does all go on a bit too long with the ending being somewhat predictable and heavy-handed. It goes from being a lively comedy of manners to over-wrought slog by the end. I will say that I did enjoy her attempt to combine cutting comedy with social commentary. This is definitely not a book for the children in your house with the salty, profane language and delicate subject matters.

I'd say overall it's just OK as a literary work, nothing to get all worked up over. Like another reviewer mentioned, if you don't want to take the chance, pick it up at the library or ask for it as a gift. Hopefully this will help some of you decide for yourselves. Cheers!
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on October 9, 2012
I think plot details have been reviewed pretty well by this time, so I'd like to comment on the characters.

What I have always loved about Rowling's writing is her ability to create characters that seem real. She knows her characters,she knows what to do with them, and she isn't afraid to let bad things happen to them. In this novel, she has dozens of characters to work with, and oftentimes background information has to be supplied and the actual plot suspended so that the reader can keep up with everyone. I personally don't mind because I find these characters absolutely fascinating, but the lack of action isn't going to appeal to everyone.

With many books it is very clear who the reader should be "rooting" for, since one character seems to stand above the rest morally or in talent. If you are expecting the same formula in this book you will be disappointed, because each character is deeply flawed, each with his or her own ugliness. My point is that there is no hero, unless you count the deceased Barry Fairbrother, and I even wonder about him. Again, I find this refreshing. It makes me irrationally annoyed to see so many bestsellers about a klutzy, yet otherwise completely endearing protagonist attracting all men within a ten mile radius. You will not find that here. Thank God.

The counterpoint to this is that each character is also endearing or relatable in his or her own way. With each shifting viewpoint (and there are many), new insights are revealed that make it easier to understand each character. It is a style that makes it hard to put the book down, since she never gives you all you want to know at once.

Other points: I'm a fast reader, and ordinarily I'd have knocked this out in a night, but I decided to stretch it out over a couple of days. I really think this helps for understanding the characters and their connections better -- if you don't get those, you won't understand the plot.

Also, many people are commenting on the use of strong language, sexuality, and rape. Personally, I think if you are going to write about problems in a small town and the people in it, these things almost beg to be addressed. That Rowling did not avoid them speaks to her strength as a character writer; it doesn't mean, for example, that she's using four letter words just because she can't think of a better one.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon September 27, 2012
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is perhaps somewhat of enigma. I, just like countless thousands of other readers was so curious about what this author would come up with after so many hugely popular Harry Potter books. This book was in a way, refreshing, and in a way disappointing. Let me explain.
I knew going in after watching the news coverage on the release of this book, that it was intended for adults. I also knew that it was a...bit off the beaten path, particularly when held in comparison to her previous books. I think that is where we reviewers may be going wrong. As much as we swear we will not judge this novel off of previous books by this author, the magic and wonder of her previous series is steadfastly and stubbornly locked in our minds.
I did my best to lay Harry and his magical friends to rest when I picked up "The Casual Vacancy." So from here on I will not mention the previous series again.
What I loved about this book: This book was funny at times, sad at others and moved along at a good enough clip to keep my mind occupied. I thought the town was great, the characters were sharp and the writing itself was very good. I liked that the author told the fans what she wanted to write this time rather than beat a dying horse to death and stick with the program.
I liked that the ending left you wondering certain things and yet answered the most important things. I thought the book was well edited and intelligent, regardless of the subject matter.
What I didn't like: (Attempting to do this without spoilers) I really couldn't see how some of the material in this book could be considered as coming from a comedic standpoint. The opinion I got when watching the pre-release coverage for this book was that it was supposed to be tinged with comedy. Some of the issues in this book are just plain depressing and not at all what I would have considered a topic to laugh about.
I found an undercurrent throughout this book that strangely, made me hate it for the same reason I loved it. I felt as though the author went to extremes trying to prove that she could write something other than young adult fiction, that in an odd way, made the writing came out a bit juvenile.
I also felt that the author spent a bit too little time on description and a bit too much time pondering the macabre. Perhaps it was just me, but I came away feeling a bit dry. For me, this book was like sitting on a hilltop with your camera poised on a beautiful sky waiting for that perfect sunset. All of a sudden, your expectations are shattered when a huge cloud moves in front of the sun and ruins the shot. I expected so much for a book that was five years in the making. I did not feel this book measured up to that expectation.
J.K. Rowling previously said that she would not want to talk to anyone who did not cry at the end of this book. I hope I am not the first to disappoint her, but Not a single tear did I shed. I seriously came away feeling casually vacant.
To those of you who are moaning and groaning over the prices of the kindle books and leaving negative is wingardium leviosa....NOT Wingardium Levi-o-sahhhhhhh. Read the book before you judge. I did.
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on October 8, 2012
I loved this book - yes it took a while to get going - with a huge cast of characters, each painstakingly introduced. However, the lengthy beginning certainly paid off as you become immersed in the daily, tortured struggles of people trying to find a sense of importance, 'authenticity' and meaning in the small community of Pagford.

These characters - seemingly so small and petty, have been made magnificent by the lavish care given to their stories. The pettiness, prejudice and narrow mindedness rings true, even if you have not actually met 'these sort of people' - all of us suspect that parts of them live inside all of us.

This wonderful novel is about as far from Harry Potter as you can get - but it doesn't seem as though JK Rowling set out to prove that she could write a profane, gritty urban satire/tragedy. No - this novel is so perfectly formed and well-written - I am left gasping in awe of her talent as a writer on many levels.

If you are reading it for the 'Harry Potter' experience - you will be sadly disappointed. For me - it was akin to discovering a fresh new voice.
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on October 8, 2012
It seems this book is one that people love, or they hate. The one star reviews for price isn't fair to the book or its author, nor are the reviews from people who didn't read it, or just a read bit of it.

For everyone who insists this book has to have something in common with the Harry Potter books. The Casual Vacancy is what would have happened to Harry had there not been magic and Hogwarts to save him.

The Dursleys were self satisfied, self important, stingy, petty, little people who were overly concerned with appearances, and what the neighbors would say. In the Sorcerer's Stone; Petunia Dursley was described as a gossipy window watcher. Vernon was cruel to Harry. Remember how many times he locked Harry in his cupboard, and later in his bedroom without food? The memories Harry had...of being chased up a tree by Aunt Marge's dogs, and not let down until after midnight. The clothing the Dursleys made Harry wear; all of Dudley's castoffs that clearly did not fit, and Harry's glasses that were mended with tape. His body clearly showed the lack of food. You would think that any concerned neighbor would have turned the Dursleys into social services, but in ten years no one at his school, or any of his neighbors took the time or effort to look into Harry's situation. Clearly Harry was an abused and neglected child. The people at school, and the neighbors, were too wrapped up in their own petty concerns to take pity on a neglected orphaned boy. JK Rowling described a desperate living situation for Harry, and I took it as a scathing commentary on social injustices way back then. I think Ms Rowling has wanted to expose the underbelly of social injustice even before she wrote Harry Potter, but you can clearly see the seeds of The Casual Vacancy had been planted years ago!

The Casual Vacancy is a look at people in situations where they can't take care of themselves. Yes, addiction is awful, and ugly. What is does to the innocent children is uglier. The kids have no choice as to who they are born to. Since they have no functioning parent they are left with little choice. They do what they must do to survive, or they don't survive at all. Without help from people with better life circumstances the cycle of abuse and neglect will only perpetuate itself. The people with better circumstances seem to see these helpless little victims as a burden, or worse; somehow they deserve their lot in life. Without help how can they possibly get out?

The Casual Vacancy is a tough book to read, but I think an important one. It is a book that shines a light on how cruelly we human beings can be toward one another. How we can take pleasure tormenting each other, how many of us become so wrapped up in our own little dramas that we become blind to other's suffering, or choose to look away; how we prey upon those weaker than ourselves, and how when we do nothing the consequences can be devastating. I think that is the point of the book. We have to stop looking away.

Something to think about; If Harry were a real boy, in the real world, living in the situation described, and showing the anger he did toward the Dursleys; how long would it be before sweet little 11 year old Harry became a snarling, out of control, rebellious teenager? Given the complete lack of love from the Dursleys what might Harry do to them or to himself? If no one intervened on Harry's behalf there would be no telling.
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on October 1, 2012
So first of all when you set out to read this, and you're a Harry Potter fan, you need to realize this is NOT Harry Potter in any way. You could have read a hundred novels with adult language, but seeing a couple of swear words from JK Rowling will definitely be shocking at first! You must get over all this if you want to enjoy the book.

The Bad: The story starts out with a spiral of characters and setups. It doesn't slow down either, you are bombarded with characters, their descriptions, and small stories of their past. What makes it difficult to keep up is that every couple of pages or so, you are moved to a totally different setup with a bunch of new characters. This could have been fine if it wasn't as frequent. It gets very confusing and you almost want to give up because you feel like you're at 30% and still don't have a clue who this is or what's going on. You mustn't!

The Good: It's really amazing, and quite fun seeing how all this chaos gets sorted out and related to each other slowly towards the end. After you endured the first half, you really get along with the characters even though they're not very lovable but you start to understand them better and would really want to go on. I just liked how the plot was tangled and then brilliantly cleared out. The way every small event and action made sense in the overall shaping of each character and their decision becomes very clear, it all makes sense!

Overall, I gave it 3 stars because it's not exactly annoying to read, but then again it's not the greatest there is out there either. It's worth a read, if you're willing to push yourself over the first half till you start rolling with it in the second half.
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on September 30, 2012
I was interested in reading what JKR had to say as an adult novelist - my kids grew up along with Harry Potter, and although I loved those books, I thought that a writer of her prodigious talent would probably be able to pull off a non-Potter adult novel with ease.

I was so wrong. Dear God, was I wrong.

The novel began with a sharp step off the curb and never regained its footing, staggering on through hundreds of pages of misery, not just for the characters in the book, but also for the eager reader, whose enthusiasm hit rock bottom at about page 100. I only persevered because my mama taught me not to be a quitter.

It's hard to know where to begin, but it's probably best to start with the many, many characters (the plot doesn't matter - it was as dull as a bowl of oatmeal), not a single one of whom is admirable or even slightly likeable. It's not just that they're flawed, because who wants to read a book about perfect, adorable people who always do and say perfect, adorable things? (If that's the sort of novel you like to read, I'd like to point you toward Jan Karon's gooey Mitford series.) No, this novel doesn't have one single sympathetic character: You pretty much hate them all from first to last. The only way to distinguish among them is that some are worse than others. It's as if Rowling said, "I want to write an adult novel with adult themes, so how's about I throw in some pedophilia? AND some mental illness? AND a rapist? AND a sadistic, revolting teenager or two? AND some adultery? AND a crack whore? AND a self-mutilator? AND an abusive husband/father? AND wives who are hatefully contemptuous of their husbands? AND some husbands who act more like children than men? AND about a thousand f-bombs? AND some ugly sex? AND...AND...AND..."

Do you get my point? This dystopian novel contains barely a shred of kindness, mercy, selflessness, family solidarity or, I don't know, LOVE. Everyone is locked into miserable relationships, everyone is suffering, everyone is mean, everyone is selfish. This was probably the most depressing book I've ever read and if Rowling thought the sad, anti-climactic ending there at the church with the pink coffin and the little, tiny white coffin in any way shone the light of redemption on the previous four hundred and some pages, she was sadly mistaken. This book was horrible. After a while, it went from being disturbing to just being ludicrous; does any novel have a larger cast of characters, none of whom have any depth other than loathsomeness of one kind or another? It's one of those novels that I wouldn't even want to donate to Goodwill - why would I want to inflict this awful story on anyone else?

Oh, for one multi-faceted Severus Snape, with his venomous tongue and his doe Patronus! Oh, for a many-layered Dumbledore with his upright heart and his murky past! Why do the kids get all the fabulously-drawn characters with their wrongs and their rights, their petty hatreds and their monumental graces, and we adults get landed with a novel full of nothing but Dursleys?

This novel was a major disappointment. My recommendation, if you feel you absolutely must read it, is to borrow it from your public library. Do not spend the money on this one.

Edited to add: My continuing thought on this book is that Joanne Rowling definitely has a voice as a writer, it's just that, with this novel as an example, I don't think her voice is one for adults. Maybe her true niche is writing outstanding young adult fiction - heaven knows the world could use more solid writing in that genre, and there's certainly no shame in writing books that entertain, instruct and enlighten the YA crowd, which is exactly what she did with the Potter series. I am hoping that The Casual Vacancy is just an aberration, a hiccup in her career, because this book doesn't even seem like *her.* JK Rowling is an author who knows how to flawlessly develop a character. She's brilliant at it. She's better than this book, SO much better. The second piece of advice I have to add to this review is that if you haven't read the Harry Potter series, go do it right now and see what this talented woman is truly capable of. Read Harry Potter with your adult sensibilities, not just allowing the plot line engross you, but also to observe the manner in which the imperfect characters grow into grace with their strengths, weaknesses, failures and triumphs. It should be an able antidote if you read The Casual Vacancy.
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