I don't often write book reviews. In fact, I think this may be my first. But with everyone writing in about how terrible they thought this book was, I thought I'd chip in my two cents.
I thought about not reading this book due to the terrible response it was getting from die-hard J.K. Rowling fans. I didn't want this book to change my opinion that Rowling is one of the best writers out there, as it seemed to be doing for so many fans. I thought about it. I'm glad I ignored them all.
This book will not please everyone because it wasn't meant to. It's like a Tarantino film. It's gruesome, it's hard, and in that way, it is a realistic representation of certain aspects of life as many people experience it in this world. And, like a Tarantino film, this book draws these same hard aspects of life out to such an extreme that it seems to glory in them, making you feel like it's just a little too much -- what? Too much to handle maybe, or too much to believe, or possibly... too much like your own life to really be enjoyable.
The thing that makes the Harry Potter story so fantastic is that it is, actually, painful to the point of being diffult to bear. My childhood memories are flecked with grief drawn by Rowling's pen. I remember where I was when Sirius died, and Dumbledore, and Snape, and (fleetingly) Harry. I felt real, hard, human grief over a character. I mourned the death of -- what? Dumbledore was never more than a cluster of words on a page. How could I feel real feeling at this fictional loss? Still, I remember my dad explaining my sombre expression at a family function. "She just finished the sixth Harry Potter book," he said, and it was all he needed to say. They understood because they'd felt it themselves.
That, truly, is Rowling's power. She has the unique ability to make her readers really feel what her characters are feeling. When a character dies in her books, it can feel like a character in our own lives has passed away.
I would suggest that she has actually honed this power in writing "The Casual Vacancy." Harry Potter was able to escape the post-trauma pain that followed him by throwing himself into school work, solving the mysteries of his world, or exacting revenge.
Escape is not an option in Pagford. Though many of the characters think about getting out, and some try to, their endeavors are always somehow thwarted. Ultimately they must each turn and face the things that make their lives difficult.
It is not an easy book, but then, I don't think Rowling has written an easy book since "The Chamber of Secrets." It is an enjoyable read, if you are the kind of person who doesn't mind walking around in the shoes of people who have difficult lives for a while. "The Casual Vacancy" is complex. It constantly encourages its readers to form opinions about characters and organize them into neat little cubby holes. Then, again and again, Rowling throws those opinions into a vortex, leaving us to try and pick up the pieces of our misconceptions.
Like Zadie Smith's "White Teeth," it's a brilliant reflection of society. You'll like it, if you're the kind of person who isn't interested in an escape.
I love audiobooks. Reading has always been a struggle for me because of my poor eyesight. Audible changed my world and made my commutes a joy.
Firstly, I have never read the Harry Potter books, so I did not read this book through teen mystery goggles. I am also not offended by crude language, which made so many reviewers appealed. In this book, the curses and swears are rightly overused - they represent the world of the underprivileged that we conveniently like to ignore. The themes of the book are involve that greasy stain in the fabric of today's society that we tend to ignore and Ms. Rowling is a brave billionaire to chose to tackle these themes, though I should hope that some of the proceeds of the book go to charity and programs for children of lesser means.
My problem with the book is the website hacking part of the story. It's forced and naive. I wish it was a little more clever and surprising.
It seems like she's biting off a bit more than you're willing to chew - perhaps too many intersecting stories, perhaps a wavering narrative, going to and fro between characters and their thoughts, in a rather unoriginal way, with the disgruntled poor, the midlife crises, the teenage angst, the disconcerting revelations of growing old and of growing old with someone else; all items checked. But in the end it all seems to come together - predictably, yes, so really no surprises along the way; but still, a reliable story and a respectable writer, all in all.
former nuclear scientist
All is not right in the Muggle world. Or so I thought with annoyance as I listened to the first chapter. The gritty, profanity-laced small town England Rowling has created here and populated with bitter, ineffective, or downright destructive characters feels more like a screenplay by Guy Ritchie than a novel of the most beloved children's books of our generation.
But then I left my own prejudices behind and got drawn into the story. Those unpleasant characters have backgrounds, those angelic characters have nuances, that society of interlocking stories is bolstered by shared small-town history and weakened by private secrets. Once the politics of the "casual vacancy" - a vacant town council seat caused by a casualty, or death - is established, the story comes alive with concerns and machinations of myriad characters. Even the smallest characters are more than sketches, but fully fleshed out in a brilliant combination of internal monologues, regard by other characters, and external descriptions.
The politics of the small town serve as a framework for clashes and alliances among the factions fighting to either preserve or destroy the vision advocated by Barry Fairwater, the man whose death causes the vacancy, and whose shadow hangs over a surprisingly large portion of the town. Within this framework, Rowling explores the effect that grownups have on their children, and the lengths to which people will go to feel significant. Although I was put off a bit by the frequent, lacerating profanity, I have to concede that this book is a masterwork of fiction.
If you were looking for Harry Potter, how disappointed you must be. This story could almost be about a town where the Dursleys' live. Small minded arrogant people who must find a way to feel they are better than others to allow them to have some control over their lives. To have a poor project "on the other side of the tracks' creates the tension and tragedy that follows. This woman knows how to draw you into the story even when you despise the characters for their weaknesses and lack of charity. It is a gritty tale but one more purely true in our world than my beloved Harry Potter. Don't give up on this book even if the beginning is a bit raw. In the end you will have at least a beginning understanding of why people hate each other for really no reason at all and the devastation it can bring to the world of everyday people. I commend JK Rowling for the courage it takes to change paths after such a phenomenal success with the Potter Series. This one is definitely not for children. It is definitely a 5 star read.
I read a slew of reviews before launching into this book, so I knew what I was tackling.
I don't know if I dislike it because it is good or if I dislike it because it is bad or somehow...both.
While I definitely do not need or want stories to be puppies and unicorns, I am not sure what the point is of writing a story in which everyone is miserable.
I've been pretty darn miserable during sad lengths of my life, but I still knew plenty of people who were fundamentally happy. I made it through the dark patches and proceeded to be pretty happy. If there are communities out there in which every single person is completely miserable, the citizens should consider moving!
I cannot remember how many times I restarted this book! But I do remember falling asleep every time I restarted this book.
The narrator was excellent, I would listen to him again anytime.
Rowlings needs to stay in imaginary worlds where she is so much more entertaining and the reader develops a bond with the characters--and knows who is who and cares about them.
This book was a train wreck to listen to, no offense to Hogwarts...
This great story is not going to be to everyone's liking. Unlike the Harry Potter books the author is famous for, this story does not have a set of clearly defined goodies and baddies, nor are there any characters that are particularly likeable. The book does not have a happy ending where good triumphs over evil, nor does it have the "feel good" escapist factor of a fantasy novel. It is not a moral or positive story that shows how the goodness of the human spirit can overcome great adversity.
By contrast, this book shows an extremely realistic depiction of modern life in Britain. It vividly portrays the interactions between a set of multi-dimensional, colourful yet credible characters in a small town setting. The book explores complex social and political problems in the context of this microcosm in a balanced way without simplifying the issues or portraying people holding one viewpoint in a better light than those holding the opposite viewpoint. To me, the book had the feel of a contemporary Charles Dickens' novel because of its fantastic and richly described characters and its focus a small slice of the world. The book is a real page-turner and whilst dark, it is quite funny in places.
Many reviewers have commented on the amount of swearing in the book. I disagree with the opinion of some that the use of swear words is gratuitous and is just there to make the novel appear "adult". On the contrary, I believe that every word - including the swear words - the characters in this novel utter are there to reflect and express those characters' particular identity and circumstances. I believe that it is extremely realistic for teenage girl growing up in a very deprived area to frequently swear at her heroin addicted mother - and everybody else. It would not be credible to me if this girl spoke in any other way. "Gosh mother I am terribly sorry to bother you but I would appreciate it if you would reflect upon the fact that your continued heroin use constitutes a blight on my life...".
Sure, I'd love to hear your story....
We are always wanting our authors to write something "different" - - and J.K. Rowling really did. For my fellow Potter fans, remember that only 3 of the seven books ended on a positive note; most ended with the dread that was hanging over Harry's head and/or with major characters that we had grown to love dead. Why are we so surprised she writes characters that are flawed and not always easy to like? It's in keeping with her pattern and I quite like that. That's why I'm so surprised at the harsh criticism that is being leveled at this book.
With that as the backdrop, this is a book with a lot of well developed characters each living their lives of, "quiet desperation." I really liked how well the author blended the people and their miserable lives together by drawing patterns and cross purposes through what might be considered normal lives.
Yes, there's rough language, sexuality, and crime. And yes, this is a book for adults. Having made that the premise, it much less graphic than most crime novels, has tamer sexual encounters than most romances, and is much more complex than a young adult book.
The story did struggle in parts - - sometimes in the effort to define the characters it was easy to lose where we were in the plot. I think as she continues to write single books rather than series, the need to so well define someone who only has a tangential role in the plot will be abandoned. But, even with that criticism, I liked it, and I really look forward to her next book for adults.
This story was very tedious will lots of foul language thrown in for good measure. I don't mind foul langue but it seemed to be thrown in just to be thrown in. Also the character development in this story was Painfully SLOW! There was none of the richness of and depth of characters we have come to expect from her. If she wasn't J.K. Rowling I don't know if this book would have been published. The brightest written parts of this book were when she was dealing with the high schoolers. Now for the bright side Tom Hollander did a fantastic job narrating and I would have no problems listening to any of his narration in the future. Hopefully now that J.K. Rowling has wrote this drivel she will write enriching full immersive worlds in the future.