*Making the leap from the world of magical youth to all-things-adult is not always and easy transition...how many jaws hit the ground when Hannah Montana dropped it like it's hot with a pole on the Teen Choice Awards, a move unanaimously considered by critics to be *inappropriate* and *ill-advised*. I am NOT saying this book is inappropriate or ill-advised -- only noting that there is always a risk involved when a anyone makes a 180* turn from the iconic role people have readily and so fondly associated them with. And this is a certainly a complete change of direction from an enchanted world to a mean gritty village on the opposite pole.
Apparently this turn-about was also difficult for the professional critics (and amusing): 1) Time magazine went so far as to *award* Rowling the Booker Prize, raving that it is *brilliant* and full of *literary intelligence*, going on to quote, "Rowling shows off a new descriptive dexterity, an extra verbal gear that until now she kept in reserve: a used condom in the grass is 'the gossamer cocoon of some large grub.'" 2) The NY Times called the novel *dull* and *crudely staged*, quoting the exact passage (that so moved Times Entertainment) as an example: "a gross description of a used condom 'glistening in the grass beside her feet like the gossamer cocoon of some large grub.'" Who am I to argue with the pros...
My unprofessional opinion: I agree with Time Magazine somewhat, but I experienced what the NY Times observed. I struggled to stay with this and admit I probably would not have were it not for Rowling's name and my expectations. Any book about hard drug abuse, violence, rape, bullying, suicide, and skanky sex, is of course a demanding read...combined with a roster of mean and nasty amoral characters-- and the demand is not worth the reward. Yes, the wretched characters tugged at my emotions, (the teen characters were the highlight of this book), but they were largely already so irrevocably damaged, or so repellent that it was logically impossible to cling to any hope. The first 2/3 of the book is burdened with descriptions, the dreary town, the residents, the politics, the history, the mundane day-to-day -- so slow and ponderous that it feels almost like it is written in real time. The novel picks up speed towards the end, but not the mood -- depressing and disparaging, perhaps Rowlings views of some of society, and her rally for change.
There are moments of brilliance, some great socio-political agendas going on, and some satirical humor, but I have to disagree with reviewers that compare this to other great English novels and their dark humor. The humor here is much darker than the British classics; it's black, mean-spirited schadenfreude and I almost felt guilty for even thinking of a grin. There will be some that will pass on this book because of the subject matter or be turned away by the language, others will find it slow, some may not be willing to allow Rowling such a reversal, and I'm sure there will be those that unfairly compare this to her monolithic HP series. Myself, I'll be recommending Casual Vacancy very judiciously to just a few friends. Rowling is an immensely talented writer and thinker, and I understand where she was going with this, I just couldn't go there with her, but admire her willingness to explore and take us along. I'm looking forward to her next transition, and not looking back. Even with the *brilliance* and *literary intelligence*...this just wasn't my preferred cup of tea.
I don't usually rate books so late, but I had to add my two cents to the reviews about this book. It is not a easy read, but Rowling has great insight into the teenage psyche. That said, this book is for adults. Not an easy or fun read but worth the trauma for the beauty of a story well told.
Addicted to Audible!
I never read the Harry Potter series, my kids were too old at the time and its not my genre. However, I can see from her adult books that JK Rowling is a gifted author. She develops great characters and interesting storylines, intersecting them all. She has great insight into why people behave the way they do. This is a story about a like little town where everyone has some connection to their neighbors and nothing is what it seems to be to. She describes what goes on "behind closed doors". The narrator was excellent bringing all the characters to life. I did not want this book to end!
JK Rowling has proved that she is a great writer. She has taken a complex story that interlinks the lives of several families in a small town. At casual glance, the families are predictable. However, once the story unfolds, everyone is shown to have skeletons in their closets. If you read the reviews that say this is a dark comedy, don't believe it. It is more like the dismal stories that Oprah tends to feature. If that is your cup of tea, this is the book for you. The narration is spectacular. The narrator keeps you wanting to go up the next hill in the dismal story.
I'm sure, (in the way that someone who has never met or spoken with the author can be sure) that J.K. Rowling was trying to write a book that was as far from Harry Potter as she could get. She had to show that she could do something else. She has certainly succeeded. I don't think that this was supposed to be a light hearted romp at all. It is not. This book is dark and brooding. If you are waiting for the uplifting moment, it never comes. The other side of that is that she wrote this book very well. Part of what makes it dark and disturbing is that she is good at description and she is excellent and setting a scene in small towns in England. I didn't really like the book but I was engaged with it to the end.
The reader knocked this one out of the park! I think that part of what made the book so engaging was that he was reading it. I hope this book lands him a big stack of contracts to perform other books. He needs to do more!
I didn't like the story but it was well crafted.
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.
Having never read Harry Potter, since children were already grown,I was interested to hear the author's style and can now see, after listening to just 1/3, how the story just pulls you in. Rowling touches on so many areas of British life, housing projects, drugs, upper class snobbery, Indian immigrants.etc
all of Crystals encounters with social worker
ability to differentiate voices
Tom Hollander, yes. J.K. Rowling - NOT LIKE THIS, NO! If they have the same richness and suspense of the Harry Potter novels I enjoyed as I kid, I would.
Anything!? I listened at work and in the car for 2.5 hours. Then, I read other reviews via Google to see if maybe it has a surprise in store. Apparently not. Apparently, she is saying her royalties from the HP franchise allow her to write what she wants. That doesn't mean it's good.
This book - the first 2.5 hours anyway - is comprised of character descriptions of average, stereotypical people in a small town. So far, a guy has died, and people have gossiped about it. Looks like their might be a battle over who takes his small-town political spot maybe. Woohoo.
Language is crude. Rare witty moments.
My mother would call this in movie-format a "slice of life." I can look out my window or at my coworkers for that. If I was READING without benefit of a narrator, I'd not have the desire to turn the next page.
I think she's trying to make a political statement in their somewhere. Descriptions of places or a rainy day are excellent. Not a three-part book I can bear to finish.
I loved her writing. This is like Harry's Aunt and Uncle's daily life along with that of their friends and neighbors. Nothing more. Depressing (social service visit of a drugged out mother etc.).
Narrator was awesome. Not sure how he stayed awake though... Since I'm giving up 2.5 hours into this without an understanding yet of which of the TWENTY characters is which, I can't vote for a favorite performance of one...
Just cut the plot... Wait... ADD a plot!
This is the ONLY negative review I've ever written. I've only returned one other book (and that just wasn't my cup of tea, so I didn't review at all).
Avid listener on my daily commute!
If you're like me and have tried multiple times to listen to or read this book, only to give up in despair each time because it feels like too painful a slog: TRY AGAIN! If you can just stick with it through all the meanness, misery, trauma, abuse, neglect, and suffering...you'll be rewarded about halfway through when it unexpectedly turns into a page-turner you won't want to turn off! Everything other reviewers have said is true, though. This is a VERY dark portrayal of human nature and the human condition. At about 1/3-1/2 of the way through the book, it will occur to you that there isn't a single likeable character (though I promise that will change by the end). Also: to get to the reward (which is the at-least-partial redemption of at least two of the three surviving teenaged characters, and somewhere between two and four of the adults), you have to endure incredible darkness, backstabbing, and pain...and then even worse suffering and two unspeakable tragedies. But then everything comes together and you will be very glad you hung in there when the going got rough.
I have a theory that if the works of J.K. Rowling (and civilization itself) endure, The Casual Vacancy will be studied hundreds of years from now by scholars who will view it as her great experimental novel, much in the way students of English literature today view Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. As in that novel (wherein the main character is sort of a blank, and the point is how all the variously flawed and despicable secondary characters view and interact with her, each other, and themselves), the main character (the moral center, as it were) in TCV is a void, since he dies in the first few pages. The other characters--nearly all deeply flawed, and many downright loathesome--are then left to circle that void, see whatever they see when they look at its partially reflective surface, and deal with its aftermath. It's crazy dark--but also beautifully written and crazy brilliant.
The narration is excellent; this narrator is obviously an amazing actor.
Bechdel test: Pass
I hated this book. While Rowlings crafted a story, it was shocking to me that the book, overall, had so few redemptive qualities. It seemed to me to be an exercise in displaying & highlighting all the worst traits that we humans are burdened by, with no attempt to balance that very depressing picture with anything that it is worthwhile, decent or good. I feel sullied & encumbered by having read this. I intend to read some decent literature in the hope of recovering