When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early 40s, the little town of Pagford is left in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils.... Pagford is not what it at first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town's council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity, and unexpected revelations?
Blackly comic, thought-provoking, and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults.
©2012 J.K. Rowling (P)2012 Hachette Audio
So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.
*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'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.
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).
The story was extremely depressing & slow. I almost fell asleep while driving. The narrator is probably good, but there's not much he could do with this story. I read lots of English novels...not just Harry Potter. I love JK Rowling, but this is just not up to her standards. I tried to plod through, but after starting the 2nd download, I just had to quit.
It was just a very depressing & slow story overall
He was good, it just wasn't good material.
Not really. I wasn't expecting all the bad language.
I wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't.
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 have a strong preference for the SPOKEN, as opposed to the written word. Although a poor reader may detract from a book, a truly capable reader adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of a good book.
I can't identify a single, admirable character in the entire cast. Everyone was flawed, and most, fatally. Yet the author takes the reader into their lives so deftly, I was enthralled. Felt a bit like the proverbially bird watching a snake. Narrator Tom Hollander did a superb job, especially with the voicing of different characters. So much so, that I will search his name for other books he has narrated. Following a narrator, rather than only the author, is something I rarely do. All in all, a very, very good book, but if you're looking for something cheery and uplifting, do pass on this one.
I would recommend this book to SOME friends, but not all. The story is about a town, not a protagonist. Like in HP, Rowling weaves many characters together in a compelling, multi dimensional story. Some people might be frustrated by the nebulousness in such a story. Others, like myself, see this as a reflection of real life.
Hollander brings a british authenticity that brings the story to life for a Yank like myself. His tone, tied with Rowling's british stylings, drench this book in a beautiful modern british feel.
Rowling doesn't create stories. She creates human, relatable characters and sets them loose in the little town of Pagford. While this is elegant and natural, it may not satiate some reader's need for good/evil.
I read all the Potter books (as an adult) and loved them. I pre-ordered this book when I heard it was coming out, but was very much aware that it was not going to be a children's book and was interested to see what Rowling's craft was like when it was not paired with the plot from a series which pulled the reader along regardless of whether or not the writing was polished. Then I started reading the reviews from others, both Potter fanatics and not, which lambasted this novel. (I did hear good things, too.) The criticism seemed to be along two veins: either people found the novel boring, or they were horrified by the sex, drugs, and cursing. Personally, I would never be offended by sex, drugs, or cursing in a book as long as they belong where they are put in context. I was, however, somewhat put off by the suggestion by many that the book would be boring- particularly since the plot summary involves small town politics in a tiny town. The plot didn't actually sound very interesting to me, and would not have made me pick it up off the shelf if it was not an author I already knew. Eventually, I decided to get it on Audible so I would be less tempted to put it down if it started out slowly if I was passively listening to it while doing other things.
The book does actually start out fairly slowly, and I can definitely see why many did not get past the introduction of a large number of characters. Many if not most of the characters introduced are not particularly likable, and it takes awhile to get invested enough in any of them to care what happens with the 'casual vacancy.' For my part, I initially had trouble getting invested because it's a tiny town taking it's local politics so ridiculously seriously that it's hard not to roll your eyes with even the characters you would tend to agree with politically.
Then a funny thing happens. You suddenly do start to care what happens, even though you don't necessarily empathize with many of the characters. If you think about it, that's quite an accomplishment on Rowling's part as a writer, and where her unusual point-of-view choice (each chapter from another character's perspective, sometimes with a shift during the same chapter) really pays off. The characters are three-dimensional, not caricatures. There is no protagonist, and no obvious antagonist. Even with characters that are quite unlikable, it is possible to see the complicated nature of their motivations. As the story arcs weave together toward the end of the novel, I became more and more involved in the story. It reminded me of a less sleazy Peyton's Place, or a less melodramatic Dickens novel.
This book should never have been billed as a black comedy- it isn't. If you look at it as a black comedy, Rowling would come across as a fairly heartless and snide author. And a reader expecting comedy will be looking at the characters through the wrong lens. I can see why this book was a problem for many Potter fans- that series appealed to a very wide swath of readers, whereas this novel will only appeal to a small part of that group. However, if you happen to be in that group, it is well worth the investment of time.
I did not like any of the characters or care about their problems. I kept listening because it was JK Rowling but I give up . I'm too old to waste anymore time with people I don't want to spend time with.
What genre? ?part of the problem?
yes I felt bad for him having to read this.
Anger because I did not care for these people and I kept listening hoping for it to change.
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.
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