Brave, universal, contemplative
While the story takes place in a small west country village in Britain, it could be anywhere. It certainly could be any community (especially if it has gates) in the United States. This is a book about class separation and distinctions, greed, poverty, lack of opportunity. It fits today's "me first, me only" attitude perfectly. If you are looking for a fairy tale you will not find it here. These people are not perfect, far from it. Not all unselfish efforts are rewarded, rarely in fact. Is that depressing, or is it reality? Anyone who has ever been involved in community affairs will quickly recognize these folks, flaws and all. Rowling's background clearly informs her writing in this book.
There is one death (out of a number) in the book that is very moving but I will not detail it as it would spoil the book.
Yes, but it's long, complex with many characters one of which has two names depending on the speaker. The book requires concentration.
If you have trouble understanding English, English this might be problematic. While it's not all that important you know what "rounders" is Rowling did not dumb down the authentic west country style of speech for the American market, a good thing. The "rough" language is plentiful and authentic.
If you give it a chance this book gives you much to think about and an opportunity to examine your own actions and attitudes in your community. Have any of us made our world a better place for others without a payoff for ourselves? Far too few I would imagine and I include myself in that.
Casual Vacancy is a beautifully written work of art. Nothing has been missed in the story. No storyline was neglected. Every character and every scene is perfectly orchestrated to completion. Reading Casual Vacancy is like eating that perfect meal. It starts off with an explosion of flavor, akin to a beautifully prepared appetizer and from there Rowling guides the reader through a perfectly told story that is nicely sustained. A good story is one that the reader does not want to put down, but is not forced to rush through. It is a story that once over, its characters will be missed. And once completed, the storyline line and messages are still being contemplated in the minds of its readers. This is the brilliance of Casual Vacancy.
What about the bad reviews? What about all the readers who put it down out of what they said was disappointment and boredom? I was not dissuaded or discouraged when I read the very first publicized negative reactions to Casual Vacancy or heard from various friends and other reviewers, “My friend started this and was bored so she put it down”. Harry Potter had such huge wide spread appeal that it makes sense that many of her former fans would give this a try or think about giving it a try, but Casual Vacancy – while nearly perfectly written in my opinion – is not a book that will have wide spread appeal. Despite my opinion on this, Casual Vacancy does have staying power and it has its own beauty. The thing about Harry Potter is that all sorts of readers consumed it. And all sorts of non-readers read it. To please that type of audience would take something like, well the Hunger Games to satisfy everyone. But that is not being fair to Harry Potter and its fans, Hunger Games (in my opinion) while fun and very good, does not come close to the brilliance of the Harry Potter series (and if you have only read the first one or two in the series, then you have no idea what I mean … read the later ones!). My point – Casual Vacancy is not a repeat of Harry Potter in terms of having wide spread appeal.
At the risk of being confusing and contradictory – Casual Vacancy is very similar to Harry Potter. Whaatttt????
For readers of the entire series of Harry Potter, I am confident what remains with them even years after reading the books are the characters – the depth of the individuals developed, their struggles with moral dilemmas, the depiction of how absolutely horrible human beings can be to others when given the opportunity, their personal losses and their small victories. That is what I remember, more than any complicated mythology behind wands and horcruxes – I remember the characters. The Harry Potter books are immense in length and the story takes 7 books to tell, because it is the characters’ stories that filled the pages.
Casual Vacancy appears to be set in a nearly perfect setting: a small town where people know each other and have for generations. This is a town that is not war torn, is not fighting a famine or dangerous gangs and is not facing a spiraling out of control crime rate. This book does not have an external pressure affecting its characters or a complicated plot line each is struggling through. What this story comes down to is just the people appearing on the pages of the book and how people live their lives, how people treat each other, and what motivates them to act. The story is told from the alternating third person point of view a large number of characters. At first, keeping track of each character is task. I actually kept a cheat sheet. However, after about 10% of the book each character was solidly embedded and I no longer needed my notes. In the beginning of the story, it first appears that all of the characters are somehow involved with one main character that has died. And yes, while that is true they have that in common, that is not really the point – the point is not their connection but their own individual stories.
The characters in Casual Vacancy are each trapped in their own universe of interests, surrounded by their own self focused motives. They cannot seem to see beyond their own pain and struggles and because of this, they don’t see those who truly need help. There are heartbreaking scenes in this book, but they are essential to go through because it is a forcing of the reader to notice the pain of others – in a way that many of us probably do not in real life. This book provides an amazing lesson to each of us and is inspiring. Stop, open our eyes, help those around us, see people from their perspective instead of judging.
Who would enjoy this book? Readers that enjoy literary fiction, character studies or societal observations . This book is not an adventure tale nor is it a story with a beginning, middle and end. It is a window into the lives of a small town – the readers get a glimpse and then it is over. Readers looking for a tight resolution, a beautiful and satisfying end, and the triumph of good over evil should not attempt Casual Vacancy. They will be disappointed. This is not a book to be skimmed, but instead it is one to be immersed in and it takes awhile to get through. So patient readers are needed as well. I plan on re-reading this book and I anxiously wait for Rowling’s next effort.
Reading is one of life's greatest pleasures...and, now that I've found audiobooks, I can read even while performing mundane tasks!
If you're a Harry Potter fan, then you'll understand when I say that reading "The Casual Vacancy" is like reading a novel set entirely in Little Whinging. If you haven't read the Potter books, suffice it to say that throughout this listen I felt as if I were driving by a tragic car wreck...and just couldn't look away. The characters are real and flawed. The story is dark and raw. The plot twists kept me guessing. I didn't particularly love any of the characters, and yet I was drawn to them, and I wanted to know how things would turn out for them. But there was no relief from the meanness and pettiness of ordinary life in a small town like one finds in the Potter books, no Hagrid or Dumbledore popping in to whisk us away to the world of magic and adventure. Not that I was expecting that. I knew what I was getting myself into. But I couldn't help wishing for such a thing throughout the listen. Still, I resonated with the social commentary, and I found J. K. Rowling's writing to be just as satisfying as I always have. The narration was highly enjoyable. Tom Hollander did a great job of portraying each character with a distinct voice.
Army Social Work
Topical, shocking in it's frankness
Sukvinda (sic) appeared to be a repository for all the angst the other young characters were feeling. It was as if she represented the thoughtlessness of people's actions,without regard to the effect said actions would have on others around them. Her bloodletting caused a visceral reaction in me. By the end she had grown in the strength of her character...I also was struck how the opposing views of the townspeople so closely correlated with America's current political battles (personal responsibility versus the less fortunate). Guess this crap occurs all over the world...
Clear, concise language. Listened to a book (vampire series, with an English character called "Bones") and couldn't get through the first couple chapters due to harshness of the narrator...taught me to listen FIRST before purchasing.
Obviously,Crystal. She has options, but she can't see, and has not been taught to choose a less damaging path among those options (I work for Social Work Service)...Or Kay, for not fighting harder for Crystal, or picking up her daughter's life and relocating, following some guy who never gave her the tiniest indication he wanted to be with her outside of a bed...
What I liked most about this book is the author had many twist and turns in the book.
The voice was right on point.
Rowling has an amazing ability to distill people's characters in a few crafty sentences. Everyone is flawed and she is unapologetic and quite blunt about it. The most mundane person in your neighborhood gains a kind of power from her intense interest in them and interpretation of them and we the readers see the people around us in sharper detail. We might not be entirely sympathetic to them but I for one feel like minding my p's and q's in case she is observing me.
The narrator was able to convey the many characters in a way that one could quickly differeniate them.
The adherance to the realities of life in the 21st century from the raw descriptions of life on the seedy side to the petty prejudices that all humanity can fall prey to.
Crystal. The only character who seems to accept and wrestle with the realities of her life.
Its Just a Veneer
This was a difficult book to read. After you have read about half the book, you realize that the author is without hope for the 21st century western 'civilization'.
I flip-flop between business and fiction books to keep me grounded in reality while still keeping my childhood love of fantasy firmly intact.
Like "Jude the Obscure," by Thomas Hardy, this is NOT a happy story, but unlike that book, which I absolutely HATED, I really enjoyed "The Casual Vacancy." This story of a small town in western England has hardly a hint of romance, but plenty of foul language, death, sex, betrayal, and drug abuse; there's even a bit of incest, just for good measure. Everyone has their problems, but all the people mentioned in this book have serious amounts of disfunction.
In the end, all the people that come out of the situation relatively unscathed aren't left any better than they started. And, again, this was a GREAT book, because Ms. Rowling tells the tale in a way that makes it a fun listen. It left me thinking, "My life's pretty darn good, comparatively speaking."
I don't, however, recommend this book for anyone under the age of 30. You need some perspective to be able to read this book and not be effected negatively by it.
That all being said, I'm hoping for a sequel! There are a lot of characters here that I want to follow to find out how messed up their lives will become as they try to deal with some of the things that were unresolved!
HEARTBREAKING, DARK, INTRIGUING
YES - especially ones with children
It would be Kay
This book was not great, it was sad, once I got two thirds into it, I had to find out what was going to happen. I found the book hard to follow so I purchased the audio book which was MUCH better. The narrator was great! The voice of Howard sounded just like Hagrid! I think JK did an EXCELLENT job on her first book after Harry. Nothing could have come close and to expect it too was pure fantasy!
I had to be talked into the Harry Potter phenomenon, but once I got into it I became obsessed. So, naturally, I was hesitantly hopeful about Rowling's foray into adult fiction, even though I was still mourning the end of the Harry Potter books and films.
I am mourning Harry Potter no longer.
Don't get me wrong. This is nothing like the Harry Potter books, and if you're looking for a children's book or even an adult fantasy book, this isn't the one for you. However, if you're looking for a complex analysis of a small town, with incredibly profound character development, and shifting viewpoints that illustrate the human weaknesses behind each of our personal and political views, then you will not be disappointed.
About halfway through, I tried to slow down, not wanting it to end, but eventually I just gorged and finished it. Rowling is an incredible storyteller, and her carefully crafted characters will stay with me for quite some time.
The narrator is good as well, and though I don't have a keen ear for accents, there was a difference in classes when he spoke, which rang true to me.