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
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.
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.
For all of you reviewers out there, I want you to know how important you are to me. Reviews are very powerful. Thought you should know.
Some books come across better in print; this may be one of them. The narration was the equivalency of the proverbial nails on a chalkboard and was a constant annoyance. It actually made me irritable to have that voice rasping in my brain non-stop for a couple of hours. I would have endured it, however, if the story had been in the least captivating, but it missed the mark for me, as well. It became a tangle of names and uninteresting subplots, and I couldn't keep my mind from wandering off. Perhaps it was a self-defense mechanism.
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...".
The realness of the characters and fascinating story of their lives after an event that affected them all in different and unique ways.
I didn't have a favorite character.
No I haven't, but I enjoyed his narration very much. I love the British colloquialisms and sense of humor.
It built and built and came to a crescendo that I didn't anticipate.
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.
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