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The Casual Vacancy
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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 September 25, 2016
Who would believe that the death of one village councilman would have such an affect on the whole town of Pagford. When Barry Fairbrother dies of an aneurysm, he leaves a casual vacancy on the town council. The council had been deadlocked on two issues whether to keep a low income housing project within Pagford and whether to continue support for the addictions clinic. When an election is run to determine the new council person, posts begin to appear on the town website under the Ghost of Barry Fairbrother identity revealing secrets of candidates and standing members of the council.

Not only are the adults in a turmoil but so are the adolescents. One thing is certain none of the lives will remain unchanged by this casual vacancy.

I enjoyed this book. At first I thought that there were too many characters thrown at the reader at once. However, once I got the characters sorted, I enjoyed the many story threads.
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on July 22, 2014
Causal Vacancy incites all sorts of reactions, and my friends, like the public, are severely divided on the merits of J.K. Rowling's departure from the world of wizarding magic. Unlike the Potter series, Vacancy is written for adults and deals with the kind of political wrangling we so often see in the news. The characters are all flawed, as is humanity. Some are seriously ill, mentally or physically. Some are well off; others are poor, living in deplorable conditions. Rowling's cast is varied and large; it isn't always easy to keep track of them, and most aren't likable enough for readers to form sentimental attachments to them. However, they are all rounded and real. So real, in fact, that it's easy to see them in one's mind's eye, to know they are people who might be on any street in any neighborhood.

Rowling's ability to turn a phrase, to use descriptive language as a painter uses brushstrokes is brilliant. Picturing Pagford, the country, the locations, the homes, the people is child's play with the minute detail she provides. In fact, even the smells are nearly up one's nose as the pages come alive, element by striking element.

It's true that there is no gripping action, nothing to rivet one who wants movement and excitement. However, if a person is looking for a well-written piece of literature, this will surely meet expectations. Compared to other classic writers, Hemingway, Orwell, Salinger, Rowling can stand in the queue. The book actually held my rapt attention because of the talent Rowling displays.
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on January 26, 2013
It is patently obvious that J.K. Rowling needed to write this book. She needed to give voice to the characters who inhabit this world; the lower, working and middle class people who all - each and every one - live separate from this world, and not of it. They are the lonely, the misunderstood, the alienated. They are legion. For all of the couple of dozen characters we meet within the covers of this remarkably bleak book, there is hardly one who does not end the book as they started - lost and lonely.

Ms. Rowling is a remarkable storyteller, as attested by her previous works; but the world of those books, where virtue will triumph over tremendous odds and all things are possible if you are in the right, is nowhere to be found in the small village of Pagford where a "casual vacancy" (A casual vacancy is deemed to have occurred: (a) when a local councillor fails to make his declaration of acceptance of office within the proper time; or (b) when his notice if resignation is received; or (c) on the day of his death.) is caused by the sudden death of a member of the village board, and the ensuing political infighting has far-reaching consequences.

A lovely line from early on in the book says it all, "Both... were contemplating the casual vacancy: and saw it, not as an empty space but as a magician's pocket, full of possibilities."

This is a world where secrets cover darker secrets and hardly anything is what it appears, and an existence of quiet, hopeless desperation is the established norm. Rowling's people are as real as any you'll find in fiction, and you'll care about them in spite of yourself; even when they do unconventional, irrational, and totally infuriating things. You care. But it will do neither them, nor you, any good. They are stuck in their world. Nothing can help them, and nothing will help them. This book is a "cri du coeur". Notice these people. Know that they exist. Acknowledge them. (Not that you could ever help them; that would be asking too much.)

This is, as I said earlier, a bleak book. I cannot like it. I can only admire it. I'm glad that I read it, but I will not read it a second time. Please, Ms. Rowling, now that you have this out of your system, let us back into your other worldview and allow us some measure of balance and happiness.
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on August 14, 2013
So I finally finished this book. It took me much longer to get through than a normal read.

This is so much a departure from Rowling's previous works it is almost equivalent to if Steven King starting to write children's books.

While the writing is impeccable this is not an easy book to get into. Most of the characters are awful it was hard to find anyone to root for. Seemingly the most likeable character with the most redeeming qualities is the guy that dies in the beginning of the story and even his wife is upset that he seemed to care about everything else in there little town more that their family. Everyone else is so flawed; petty gossips, unhappy marriages, heroin users, abusive family members the list goes on and on. This is not a happy story.

It is totally character driven many small stories interweaved together. All of the characters in this little town are connected by minor details throughout the book which is a feat. If you are like me and like things to be wrapped up at the end of the book this is not for you. Most of the problems brought up are never resolved completely by the end. There are some minor resolutions to a few situations but overall many strings are left hanging open.

The character I like the best was Andrew Price the awkward teenager with acne who is infatuated with the new girl in town. He comes from a home with an abusive father and tries to take the brunt of the anger from him to protect his enabling mother and little brother. I was also pulling for Krystal, ah poor Krys. Mother addicted to heroine currently in and out of recovery she has a 3 year old brother Robbie that she is desperate to keep in her family. She is trying so hard to keep her mom straight and her dysfunctional family together. Her story is absolutely tragic. There are some bright lights at the end of the tunnel. A few characters that learned life lessons and might have become better people overall. There are also those that learned no lessons went backwards as people or remained just as awful as they had always been.

If you like true to life type stories and character studies than this is probably something you would enjoy. I will say it isn't my cup of tea and had it been written by anyone else I probably wouldn't have made it through the first hundred pages. But Rowling is a fantastic wordsmith so I persevered.

For writing I would give this 4.5 stars but for enjoyment of the story only 2 stars.
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on October 18, 2015
This was a long mini-series type book. The main conflict is about the political position to fill and the people who want it. There are no heroes in this story. The teens are mischievous and some are downright nasty. The married couples are bored with their marriages.
The story starts slow, but when it picks up, the story flows. At first the negative side of the characters are amusing perhaps funny, but it gets deep. There is one character that really is a good person but is in a position that she will never achieve her potential. That's the saddest part of these stories.
The ending is wild and yet satisfying.
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VINE VOICEon November 23, 2012
J. K. Rowling's novel, The Casual Vacancy, is a very good British village story that captures the atmosphere of a setting US readers may never experience directly. There is a long history of novelists writing in this tradition, one that comes to mind immediately is Simon Brett whose novels involve local mystery stories. I enjoy this style because of the detailed descriptions of the characters and their interactions. A key to this type of fiction is the sharply drawn images of individual emotions of the characters. The presentation of the emotional reactions of the characters is precise, and it is clear to the reader exactly what the characters are going through. This is very difficult to do, and Rowling writes with insight demonstrating a mastery of the technique.

The story of the sudden death of a councilman in the small town of Pagford and the politics of a variety of personalities attempting to continue the council's agenda is enjoyable. I like the structure of the novel, like a spiral that starts with a broad circumference and continues in narrower bands as the novel progresses. Characters are drawn from the mundane routines of their daily lives into the vortex of interaction involving the troubling issues of family problems, jealousy, envy, snobbery, poverty, racism, drug abuse, encroaching public housing, hopelessness, child abuse, self-mutilation, displacement, rehabilitation, and possibly fleeing Pagford for a location with less personal involvement with society. The tightening swirl of the action forces all of the important characters to make decisions that they once thought were not required in an idyllic British village.

Although The Casual Vacancy is certainly no British cozy, the reader will love the village and the people (some more than others) who are drawn into the spin of upsetting life events precipitated by the death of a charismatic town fixer. In the end, you will be forced to make decisions like the characters to accept the responsibilities and commitment of a local community or flee to the much less connected life of larger cities. There were a few parts of the novel (within a few scenes) in which the thread of the narrative was a bit stretched if not broken, so I gave it 4 stars instead of 5.
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on October 9, 2017
If it were any other author I would have stopped reading after the first few chapters. Far too many characters introduced very quickly, to the point where I nearly started keeping a chart of them and their relationship to each other. Worse, none of them were likeable, and only a few get much more likeable as the book continues. Sympathetic? Yes, I could give them that by the end of the book. Realistic? Sadly so. It's a masterful depiction of small town dynamics and personalities, except for the 'who cares' aspect. JKR failed to give us someone and something to root for. The pace picks up toward the final chapters, at least, and she does a talented job of tying things together and wrapping up the affairs of the large cast. I only know this because after all the pleasure I've taken in her other works I felt like I owed it to her to see this through.
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on November 2, 2017
I adored this book. You really can't put it down once you start it! If you're expecting it to be like Harry Potter, it REALLY isn't, but that doesn't mean that it's not a fantastic book. The characters and the story are heartbreaking, and overall it's a tough read-- definitely not cheery like tales of Hogwarts-- but it's a fantastic book that will stay with you long after you finish.
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on March 19, 2015
THE CASUAL VACANCY by J. K. Rowling is the story of a bitter class struggle between the smug, wealthy inhabitants of Pagford, and their much poor neighbors who inhabit the council flats called “The Fields”.

When kindly counsel member Barry Fairbrother dies suddenly, someone has to be found to fill that vacant seat. The good people of pretty Pagford would rather not have to deal with all the problems created by poverty and would love to redraw the boundaries so that the inhabitants of “The Fields” now live in nearby (and poorer) Yarvil. And so the plot of the novel turns on whether the people of Pagford will be able to fill that seat with someone who will do their bidding, or not.

This book is not particularly easy to read. It is written in omniscient third with 18 point-of-view characters. Personally, I thought that Rowling did a wonderful job in telling this story, and I was not bored or confused as some readers were. But potential readers should be warned that most of the characters in this book are just plain mean and there is plenty of betrayal, infighting and heartbreak. However, if you stick with this story, you will find a rewarding, thought-provoking read. Four stars.
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