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
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.
I read a slew of reviews before launching into this book, so I knew what I was tackling.
I don't know if I dislike it because it is good or if I dislike it because it is bad or somehow...both.
While I definitely do not need or want stories to be puppies and unicorns, I am not sure what the point is of writing a story in which everyone is miserable.
I've been pretty darn miserable during sad lengths of my life, but I still knew plenty of people who were fundamentally happy. I made it through the dark patches and proceeded to be pretty happy. If there are communities out there in which every single person is completely miserable, the citizens should consider moving!
I would not recommend this book since the story was so unfocused and many of the characters were either unbelievable repulsive or ineffectual sadsacks.
I'd give her another try. the Harry Potter books were very enjoyable.
The coda was very effective and makes you wonder where that magic was throughout the rest of the book.
Marginally. I considered stopping a number of times but plowed through to the end.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it's really well-written social satire and dark comedy, and on the other, it's like women who wear unrelieved black all the time. You wish they'd throw a bright scarf over it sometimes, to lighten things up.
Book clubs would love this one; much to discuss. The very smallness of the concerns of self-satisfied small-town residents, NIMBY, generational gaps in understanding, the way she NAILED teen attitudes and obsessions, and the nuances of marriage and other relationships.
I didn't love it, but it certainly was a GOOD book. If you know what I mean.
I cannot remember how many times I restarted this book! But I do remember falling asleep every time I restarted this book.
The narrator was excellent, I would listen to him again anytime.
Rowlings needs to stay in imaginary worlds where she is so much more entertaining and the reader develops a bond with the characters--and knows who is who and cares about them.
This book was a train wreck to listen to, no offense to Hogwarts...
Audible rawks! My taste is beyond eclectic and Audible always has plenty to choose from, no matter what mood I'm in!
Haters gonna hate, and yes, there is a good deal of Peyton Place in Pagford; but, being from the David Lynch School of Small Town Distrust, I think Ms. Rowling nails the pettiness of most people's lives in her bunch of roundly unlikable characters, few of whom find any hope of redemption by story's end. The horrors of middle class morality, abuse and poverty (of the wallet and the spirit) are examined along with warnings of the dangers inherent in obesity, facebook bullying and shoddy website security.
Not a tale for the squeamish or those who require uplifting tales of the chicken soup variety. Possibly best for those who, like the author, have seen society from its lower rungs and know that luck (and a bit of ruthlessness and avarice) has more to do with whether one gets to move on up than most care to think.
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