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.
This is a well-researched and docuemnted book detailing the lives of Jim Jones's followers. The narrative is based on 50,000 pages of documents (diaries, notes, etc) released by the FBI and seized from Jonestown. The author has a good voice and is able to convey both Jim Jones's persuasiveness, at least his persuasiveness in the beginning, and the entrapped feeling his followers must have felt. I knew of the Jonestown tragedy since I was a kid, but I had always thought it was a willing mass suicide. I was very wrong.
Author Julia Scheeres tells the story of Jim Jones and his followers, beginning in Indiana, moving to California, to Brazil and then to Guyana. She tells of his drug addiction, his sexual infidelities and methods of controlling his followers via sex (both male and female), his physical abuse and threats perpetrated against his followers -- both adults and children (so so heartbreaking to read about), and of his entrapping and control of his followers. Through the pages of A Thousand Lives, Scheeres details individual followers' lives -- pieced together from diaries, eye witness accounts and letters. This book is not just a reporting, but an unfolding of a story with multiple people's points of view.
I was surprised to learn that Jones had political ties, both in the US and in Guyana, which enabled him to maintain his operations and keep going. It is amazing, of course viewed in retrospect, that this political pressure he put on leaders in the US and in South America actually worked. After the massacre was over, one third of the people murdered at Jonestown were children (over 300 children). Jim Jones used threat and force to keep people in his church, to prevent them from leaving the grounds of his compound and to ultimately murder them. I won't detail how Jones controlled his followers -- but it is sad and horrific. I will never use the phrase "drink the kool-aid" again to mean someone who buys into a crazy idea.
Ultimatley this book was very informative but (I hate to say it) entertaining. I listened to the audio version and am glad to have learned what I did about the tragic victims of Jonestown. It was heartbreaking to learn, however I still recommend this story.
I am so mixed on my rating for this book but I think I will settle on 3.5 stars. The narration is fabulous and deserves a full five stars. Emily Gray performs the various voices convincingly – men and women from various countries and with multiple styles of accents. The jokes, inner monologue observations and one liners are hilarious. These are all delivered in a manner that subtlety makes fun of the prim and proper rules of the Victorian era. The humor drives the story, carries the story and also deserves five stars. The world building is interesting, not intricate or complex but it is interesting. For me the weakest part of the book is the storyline and the characters. Not that I didn’t like the characters, they are just not fully developed; their portrayal is more akin to a tv show, which is not a bad thing. I think it is purposeful. The storyline is enjoyable but I was not on the edge of my seat nor did I care too much about what was happening, I was more interested in Alexia’s - -the main character – jokes and thoughts. And well, there is a romance – between a prim and proper “spinster” who is 25 year old and a strong brash Scottish werewolf who is centuries old. The romance was not original, but it had some very amusing scenes (typically involving a naked werewolf in human form).
Alexia is a funny character. She is the child of a proper British lady and an Italian lothario. Apparently, Alexia bears the mark of her father in that she has a strong nose and “tan” skin. Due to these characteristics combined with a highly assertive personality, Alexia was put on the “shelf” at the age of 15 and not permitted to be presented to society. Her family treats her like a non-servant Cinderella and she sees herself as they do – unattractive due to her Italian characteristics and overbearing. These short-comings from society’s point of view made Alexia interesting and refreshing to read about.
So where does that leave a person trying to decide if they want to read this book? Honestly, I am not sure but here are my thoughts:
1. Do you enjoy books primarily driven by romance ?
2. Do you enjoy jokes and musings about naked men?
3. Do you think that Scottish men are the sexiest men alive?
4. Do you enjoy rewritings of the Cinderella tale?
If your answer is Yes to any combination of 1, 2 or 3 then I suggest you read this book and read it soon. If your answered No to 1, 2 and 3 or you answered Yes or No to 4, then I have some further thoughts to ponder (really #4 has no determination at all on this highly scientific process, I just threw it in):
5. Does the Victorian era fascinate you? And if it does, can you have a good time poking fun at this time period?
6. Do you enjoy books that make you laugh out loud?
7. Can a fabulous narration job make a book for you?
If you answered Yes to both 5 and 6 (even if you did not answer yes to 1-4), then I say give this book a try! If you answered Yes to 7 in any combination with all of the questions, then try the audio if you can get it from your library.
So there you have it! I am glad I listened to this book, if I find myself without an audio book or if there is a fabulous audible sale that includes #2 in this series then I will move on and listen to #2.
Emily Gray does the performance very well. Her accents and voices are a true performance.
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