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The Casual Vacancy Paperback – July 23, 2013
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"The Casual Vacancy is a complete joy to read....a stunning, brilliant, outrageously gripping and entertaining evocation of British society today."―The Mirror (UK)
"A study of provincial life, with a large cast and multiple, interlocking plots, drawing inspiration from Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot...The Casual Vacancy immerses the reader in a richly peopled, densely imagined world...intelligent, workmanlike, and often funny."―The Guardian (UK)
About the Author
As well as an Order of the British Empire for services to children's literature, J.K. Rowling is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees, including the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, France's Légion d'honneur, and the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and she has been a commencement speaker at Harvard University. She supports a wide range of causes and is the founder of Lumos, which works to transform the lives of disadvantaged children.
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21 years later, Rowling has risen to #1 in my list of modern authors—ahead of my erstwhile fave, Stephen King!
Her eloquent and elegant depiction of modern sociopolitical life in a small English township stole my literary heart! She channels my favorite author of all time — Catherine Ann Porter. Hmmmm— Porter . . . Potter . . . perhaps there IS a psychic connection here!
I’ll now consume all of Rowling’s post-Potter repertoire and maybe—just maybe—revisit Hogwarts Station. Thank you, JKR, for making my Kindle a better refuge than ever!
Rowling's genius is that she is able to intricately interweave the lives of so many characters, that she can create so many incredibly full portraits, and that we desperately care about what happens to them, despite not liking many of them very much. One wonders if her own experiences before she became "J K Rowling, Author", and the work she's done with the disadvantaged, colored her bleak but ultimately forgiving and redemptive philosophy towards class, society and moral responsibility at its most basic level in this novel.
The characters are annoying. Ok, they’re supposed to be, but the development of them is so sparse you don’t care about any of them enough to like or or hate them, just be annoyed by them and the whole dang town. I usually find English towns charming. This time, J. K. didn’t tell us enough about it to arouse my interest. Sigh...
Speaking of arousal, there were some attempts at romance or sexual interludes. They were clumsy and totally unnecessary. Maybe too many teen books 🤔? Same deal with the language. Rowling has a much better command of the King’s English and just cheapened herself and any chance this book had for respectability by resorting to foul language. One redeeming point - no violence to speak of.
Don’t waste your $$$ on this book. Find a copy of one of the many HP books a have yourself a magical time. The CV is a trick gone wrong, for sure.
Top international reviews
, I thoroughly enjoyed The Casual Vacancy mainly because of the vivid characters and their great variety. They were presented in vividly contrasting ways, whether between married couples or teenagers and from a gamut of contrasting social backgrounds. In fact I think variety is the key idea that unifies the novel. But the characters grip strongly. One probably develops keen feelings for most, if not all of them – great sympathy for Krystal Weedon , for example, struggling against the odds to care for her three-year-old brother, Robbie; powerful distaste for Simon Price, a bully to his wife and sons, Andrew and Paul, and a corrupt employee of a printing company; hopeful admiration for Kay Bowden who begins to show understanding and make progress towards rehabilitating Terri Weldon whom one might see as a victim of circumstances as a drug addict and part time prostitute; and feelings of sympathy for Sukvinder Jawanda, bullied at school to the point of self-harming, by Stuart “Fats” Wall and with a self-centred mother, Parminder.
There is also variety in the themes and issues that the novel touches on: class, marital relations, drugs, teenage attitudes, social problems and local politics, the latter being at the root of the conflicts the novel is concerned with. Variety is also part of the setting of the story: the “Field” is the working class and deprived area of the small town of Pagford compared with its more affluent area with its cobbled streets and chocolate box appearance; and Yarvil is the nearby town where some of the characters work and attend – at the comprehensive school and the St Anne’s private school and the hospital. There is also the cave where Andrew (“Arf”) and “Fats” meet to smoke and shoot up; and the river where Krystal and Stuart have sex and where three-year-old Robbie drowns despite Sukvinder’s efforts to save him.
Critics have made much of the observation that there are connections between this novel and Rowling’s Harry Potter books, pointing out that the teenagers in The Casual Vacancy have in common with those in the HPs that there is conflict between them and the adults. In the case of this adult novel, however, we encounter behaviours among both adults and teenagers that lead to terrible tragedy in the deaths of the only two characters who perhaps have the strongest appeal to our sympathies, Krystal and Robbie. A bleak ending.
I liked the book because it’s character-driven; it’s about life in a little provincial town called Pagford, and the interactions between its various inhabitants, from deep friendships to lifelong jealousies and rivalries, from teenage infatuations to adults wanting someone they’re not allowed to want. A lot of the characters are not very likeable, but this makes the novel realistic; in ‘real life’ we don’t like everyone we meet!
I liked this novel also because, although written for the most part in a light-hearted, frequently humorous, way, it has moral content and contains probably more than its fair share of very heavy, topical issues; domestic violence, child neglect and abuse, self-harm, rape, drug abuse, troubled families, I could go on…
I didn’t particularly like the manner of speaking which the author gives to Terry and Krystal Weedon. I don’t know whether it is an accurate portrayal of how people like Terry and Krystal do speak, but it just seemed a bit patronising possibly? Although encouraging sympathy and support for needy groups within the community, I did feel that ‘The Casual Vacancy’ maybe panders to the worst possible stereotypes of a certain section of the population: a large number of the Fields’ population we are told live on benefits (well, at least if Miles and his ilk are to be believed), drug abuse is a problem on the estate, the only Fields family, and arguably the only working-class family, which plays a large role in the book is the extremely troubled Weedon one. Not that the middle-classes are let off lightly either, but at least more than one type of middle-class person is depicted.
That said, I very much enjoyed reading this book; J K Rowling is a great storyteller and I look forward to checking out her crime fiction in the near future.
I could however relate to the story, my mother divorcing my father when I was only a,few months old and not being allowed any information about him and felt that maybe some of the background waS taken from experience. Although there were parts which seemed exagerated.
I found the book to be a very slow starter that has multiple characters and sub plots, which does make it a little hard to follow, especially if like me you tend to read it in small snapshots.
It gathers momentum especially towards the end, but be warned it's a long journey - and even at the almost inevitable conclusion you question what was the point of it all ?
To my mind the overiding theme throughout is one of social sterotypes and their inherent failings and Rowling is undoubtedly using this novel as a vehicle to have a pop at the blue rinse brigade ( hear, hear!!) whose "not in my back yard" rhetoric provides continuity across the many sub plots.
This is all the more pertinent in the month's leading up to a general election in the UK therefore if you scratch beneath the surface there is a lot more to this than initially meets the eye and the subject matter becomes very thought provoking.
This made it a wothwhile read for me a story based on reality not fantasy.
And the ending of the book is horrible. I believe the upcoming BBC TV adaptation is going to change the ending.
There is also a torrent of 4 letter words. If you don't like repeated use of the F word don't read this book.
And yet ...and yet the book sucks you into the world Rowling has created. In spite of the characters being so unlikeable you still want to know what happens to them. Rowling is a master storyteller. Each twist of the plot creates a new direction, a new trail which you want to explore.
This book has encouraged me to start up reading her two detective novels, written under her pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, which star the wonderfully named private detective, Cormoran Strike. The first one is really good. It will get more than 3 stars when I finish it.
To be honest it really took a while to get into the book, but I will never abandon a book. I am glad I stuck to the end. It was tediously slow for me to begin with and I didn't really see the point of it all, but the last few chapters were where (in my opinion) all the action happened and I was quite moved by the tragedy that occured at the end. Once finishing the book, I have to agree with those who stated that the characters had depth and were fully explored and had their own story. Reading through, you really feel like you are part of this community and these people could be your neighbours. There is no glorification of any charachter or place, everything is sadly very realistic and true to how society is today. It catches a glimpse of what may go on behind closed doors, how people are quick to judge and treat people on these (sometimes unjustified) sterotypes and misconceptions. The Weedon's are a prime example of this.
Summary - insight into a small community where everyone seems to know (or thinks they know) your business. True life "battles" faced by residents and how different events affect different people.
The local Parish Council are planning to vote on whether or not to cast off their troublesome dodgy housing estate, with its drug problems and welfare dependent occupants. Barry was one of the few councillors to support The Fields, but one of those vying for his vacant seat, Miles Mollison, has different ideas and has chosen to stand, not for altruistic reasons but to keep the riff-raff out.
As well as Barry's devastated family, there is one other character, Krystal Weedon, who has been very badly affected by his death. Barry seemed to be the only person in Pagford who saw potential in Krystal. He encouraged her to join the rowing team, which was the only thing in her life that she had done for herself. Krystal reminds me of Vicky Pollard of Little Britain fame, although there is nothing remotely funny about the way Krystal lives.
Decisions being made in the UK right now around housing are being made at local government level and something that once seemed irrelevant and dull, suddenly takes on great importance when local government officials have the power to okay or veto large scale housing developments in what were once quiet rural communities. I too have sat through 'interminable, ill-humoured council meetings,' where decisions are taken that could have a profound effect on the local community.
The town of Pagford is a microcosm of British life. Many of the characters reflect the current attitudes, which have hardened in recent years, polarising society into 'skivers' versus 'strivers.' Tabloid newspapers make much of the rising cost of the welfare budget but you don't need to be an economist to work out that in a recession (caused by the banking crisis and not the poor) that those struggling to get on the jobs ladder and the over 50s, who have been made redundant and replaced by cheaper, younger workers, are having to resort to state handouts. It is hardly a life of luxury, despite the relentless tabloid headlines of examples of feckless welfare-dependents and their deviant behaviour.
Most of the 'haves' in The Casual Vacancy come across as unpleasant, small-minded and in some cases downright vindictive. Samantha Mollison, wife of Miles, describes him thus: 'Samantha sometimes found Miles absurd and, increasingly, dull. Every now and then, though, she enjoyed his pomposity in precisely the same spirit as she liked, on formal occasions, to wear a hat.' Then there is this apt metaphor for rural Middle England life: 'Miles, Samantha thought, was looking back at his father like a big fat Labrador, quivering in expectation of a treat.'
If Miles is a Labrador, then Simon Price is an aggressive, menacing, guard dog. He terrorises his family, not just with threats but with physical violence. He is particularly cruel to his wife: 'Simon was seized with a brutal urge to punish her for intuiting his own fears and for stoking them with her anxiety.'
The characters on the Left seem to be afforded more sympathy than those on the Right but even well-meaning social worker Kay comes across as someone who sees her clients as a series of case notes and problems rather than as human beings. Kay is regarded with contempt by both her daughter, who blames her mother for ruining her life by uprooting her from the excitement of Hackney, and her ungrateful boyfriend, Gavin. Kay, who made the move to Pagford to spend more time with Gavin, is callously cast aside when she tries to take their relationship further than the occasional night in together. Gavin, who can't wait to be rid of her, reflects on their relationship, thus: 'there had been Kay; clinging to him like an aggressive and threatening barnacle.'
There is no doubt that J.K Rowling has written a novel for our time, in the way that Dickens and Trollope did in the Victorian era. Many other writers have had a stab at writing the state-of-the-nation novel, including Jonathan Frantzen, writing about middle class life in the US. Where Rowling soars above her peers, is her depiction of the lives of those at the bottom of the heap, in this case, the Weedons. It is at times heartbreaking to read about Robbie's neglect and his sister, Krystal's modest aspirations to have her own house, so that she can take Robbie off their drug addicted mother's hands and try to give him a life. Perhaps the subtitle of The Casual Vacancy should have been Hard Times because whether you agree with the politics or not, life is only going to become harder for those, like Krystal and Robbie, who for whatever reason, cannot help themselves.
The story opens with the untimely death of Pagford parish councillor, Barry Fairbrother. Thus leaving an opening needing to be filled A Casual Vacancy. What ensues is the reader dipping in and out of the lives of the people of Pagford and the surrounding area on whom this death has an effect.
We meet residents of both Pagford a respectable middle class area and residents of The Field, a council estate within the borders of Pagford. Much to the dismay of some council members who believe that the druggies and benefit scroungers shouldn't be their responsibility. After all, the people of Pagford are respectable, middle class people who are so much better than those who live on The Field but, are they . . . ?
Fabulously descriptive writing allows the reader to really understand the many characters we meet in this book. We drift in and out of their homes and lives, just at the right moment to allow us to see how all of their lives are intertwined in one way or another.
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and have recommended it to all my friends. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future. Not the Harry Potter books though. I've seen the films and they were tedious enough lol. More adult fiction please JK!
It follows the small village of Pagford, and it's residents, after one of the council members dies suddenly and the residents compete to fill his seat: what follows is much mystery, rivalry, discussion of difficult issues and betrayal. All topped off with a shock ending. A really great read.
Reading this book has put me through a range of emotions, the most enduring of which are depression and despair.
Let me start by saying that I hated the book initially - I thought the writing style was -well - childish, and I wasn't sure where the story was going. The more I became familiar with the multi-character point of view, the more the tide of events (I won't say plot, because this is more of a stream of consciousness novel) made sense.
Some of the sentence construction and descriptions are simplistic but the subject matter is definitely not. And this is what raises the book from a 2 star, to a 3.5 star book. The characters are well-developed and gritty (doesn't mean I like them, or would want to read about them again.) The mental disintegration of Parminder is frightening realistic, and the disgusting self-congratulatory Howard Mollinson made my flesh crawl.
However well crafted, I did not enjoy this book - it is too gritty, bleak and depressing - I can't help feeling that JK ought to have written under a pen name in order to let the novel find its target market in a more honest way.
It is a story about the citizens of Pagford, their lives and relationships and how one casual vacancy for Parish Councillor after the death of Barry Fairbrother disrupts the lives of those involved. The characters are fantastic, their relationships with each other make a good and realistic read. The book touches on something which we face in our society and that is the clear division between those on benefits and unemployed to those whose believe this is unacceptable and damaging to their home/town.
The ending was something I did not expect and it brought a tear to the eye. This book was fantastic and I would highly recommend it to anyone! Rowling may have left the wizards and magic behind but this book does not fall short of magical.