The Casual Vacancy
- Little, Brown Book Group
- Publication Date:
- 27 September 2012
- Modern & Contemporary
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When I first heard JK Rowling was writing an adult book, I was more than a little hesitant to read it. After reading a few reviews, I was convinced I didn't want to read it. If many reviewers were to be believed, the only reason this book would get any attention was because of who wrote it and one could only hope the poor deluded woman would return to Hogwarts as quickly as possible before she sullied the good name of Harry Potter. But I live in a very tiny town and, surprisingly, the one copy of the book was available at the local library only a couple of weeks after release and I figured I might as well give it a go. I wasn't buying so, if it was terrible, no loss no foul.From the first sentence, I was captivated. Ms Rowling is the kind of wordsmith who, to use the old cliche, could write a phone book and make it seem brilliant. But this isn't a phone book and, despite her way with a tightly turned phrase it really does come down to story. I will admit, here, my own prejudices - I was expecting Harry and the gang all growed up. But, trust me, the fictional town of Pagford is as far from Hogwarts as you can get without a flying car.For one thing, most of these characters, with the exception of Barry Fairbrother, the man whose untimely death created the casual vacancy of the title, are not particularly likable. They are hypocritical, foulmouthed, mean-spirited, snide and sneaky but they are real. What is more, they are memorable. As much as we hate to admit it, we know those people. Worse, there are some days when, if we are being honest, we are those people. It is clear throughout the novel that Barry during his too-short life, and perhaps even more so by his death, has had a profound influence on others. In life, having once been from the 'wrong side of the tracks' himself, he had helped others and had fought long and hard for the town's underdogs. In spite of his 'outsider' status or perhaps because of it, he had become the town's moral centre; he is, in effect, the living embodiment of his name, Fairbrother. After his death, the town begins to fall apart. it will take another sacrifice, the death of an innocent, another 'outsider', to help the town begin to cleanse its many psychic wounds and start to heal. Okay, I know this sounds terrible, schmaltzy and more than a little preachy and, with a lesser writer, no doubt it would be. Which brings us back to Ms Rowling's incredible skills with the written word. The book may be dark and a little, no a lot, depressing, but it never sinks into melodrama. Yes, there's a moral, that one man doing good can effect the lives of an entire town. Yes, Ms Rowling has a great deal to say about the bullying of teenagers and the hypocrisy of adults. But, at the end of the day, Ms Rowling is a master storyteller and she never ever loses sight of her craft. Clearly, not everyone will like this book. Already, many are judging it not on its own merits but on the fact that Ms Rowling is the author of one of the most popular and, dare I say, important children's book series to come along in a generation. And clearly, many of these people will want Harry Potter in Real Life and they will be disappointed. Then there are the people who will condemn her for the sex and swearing in the book, claiming it was used in an effort to establish herself as a 'real' writer of 'important' fiction. No question the book will sell because of who wrote it rather than because of what it's about and this can only lead to disappointment for many readers. But, taken on its own merits if that is possible and, honestly, I suppose it's not, this is a very good book written by a very gifted writer and it deserves to be read and isn't that all you can ask from a book or its author?
This is an adult book about the town of Pagford and what happens to them after the untimely death of Barry Fairweather, husband, father, friend and civic leader. His death leaves a vacancy on the Pagford Parish Council and it is around this vacancy that the plot twists and turns. There are no heroes, except possibly the man who died, all the other characters are very human. Much of the plot is taken up with the petty shortcomings of the other characters but there is something more subtle under the surface. It doesn't seem heroic because it's not a character, and not all the characters have it. It is love. It is what rises above all the bickering and strife. Krystal Weedon loves her little brother Robbie, Kay loves her daughter Gaia, Colin Wall loved his friend Barry as did Parminder. Mary Fairweather loved her husband.What is difficult is to wade through all the small town, small minded blather and get to what is really important. Life isn't fair to anybody in this story; no one rises above it, but nevertheless, life goes on for most of them, tragedy is not averted for others, and in some cases small improvements are made. It's an excursion into real life, with no punches pulled. Now that I'm finished reading and the story is done, it is not the people who make it through that stay with me, it's those who don't.
Loved it, great storyline, sad reality of poverty trap and ghettos bordering snobbish areas, referred to as NIMBY areas ' not in my backyard' . Well written with a good use of interesting vocabulary. As i am an adult reader, I could relate to many of the characters as i have met various people who exhibit these characteristics. What i found fascinating, was how does J K Rowling get her material on various characters e.g Shirley Mollins's character was exact. A late middle aged woman who has been loyal at her husbands side and then finds out that he has betrayed her, but rather than react with anger and confrontation she steadfastedly carries on being the martyr so that her husband is racked with guilt. Ruth Price the beaten wife who tells everyone she tripped and her son Andrew who secretly loathes his dad, and steps in to defend his mother only to be beaten severely. As i said well written around an unusual storyline that evokes various emotions from the reader.
Wow. J K Rowling has done it again for me. I really enjoyed reading this book. I became so engrossed in the lives of the characters that I was sad to finish it. She is a great storyteller and the characters were so well developed that they became real to me, especially Krystal. Her situation brought me to tears. Barry Fairbrother has died suddenly and left a vacancy on the parish council that must be filled. Pagford is an idyllic English village but next door is the growing city of Yarvil and The Fields a poor area, with a clinic that provides methadone treatment to addicts. There is a fight for the vacant seat between those in Pagford who want to get rid of the centre and the poor district of the Fields, and those who see the clinics value and want to keep it going, and want the Fields to still be part of Pagford. All of the characters in the story had their problems, and even the teenagers did their part ot destabilise the situation. I felt the most for Krystal with her drug addict mother and little brother Robbie. As much as she tried to do her best, so that the authorities would not take Robbie away things seemed set to conspire against her. The rowing team started by Barry Fairbrother was a great boost for her but once he died that went too. The characters in the book are real people to me albiet not very nice people. The book showed how we are too ready to put people in boxes. No one was prepared to help Robbie when he was in trouble. But I feel it is at least worth remembering that even in the worst of us there is some good. I liked the way she ended the book. That illustrated my point. A great book. Sad. Well worth a read.
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