The casual vacancy
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When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock and the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen.
For those of us who grew up reading books/watching TV shows based around small English town life, this is not a bad example of the genre. I honestly think it still would have been published if it wasn't by Rowling but wouldn't have gained the ire of the above and the rest of potterfandom. If you want to get angry at Rowling, get angry over Beedle the Bard (but don't because it was for charity). The truth is that she can't write in any kind of magical land/youth section because no matter if it is good or not, the vitriole from the Pottermore crowd would overshadow the work.
This is a book about the small tragedies that can occur when everyone is too self-involved. The only likeable character is dead in the first few pages and you get to see a whole host of busybodies nag at each other. It's not for everyone but neither is it completely awful.
I think if this book had not been by J.K. Rowling, I probably wouldn't have looked twice at it. Or finished reading it, for that matter, once I started. But I don't think it deserved the criticisms it's gotten. It was very well-written, and wound up being interesting. I had a hard time getting into it at first with all the characters and the choppy introduction the author gave them, but further in, Rowling's mastery as an author was evident as she really seamlessly brought the characters together in a way that made it simple for me to keep track of them all (I can have a short attention span and have a hard time following books with a zillion characters). I think the biggest problem with this story was that the author didn't have much of a fire for it. You could tell she was trying to make a point about welfare, seeing situations from different points of view, and prejudice, but...somehow it came off as a bit half-hearted. Though, I think she did do a great job of generating sympathy for the poor in the book (you really did love them in the end), and I think that was a great achievement. I hope it does something for encouraging people to treat each other a little kinder.
Ugh. This book was a disappointment. I knew it would be nothing like Harry Potter. However, I still expected the same level of character development...my expectations were not met. I very rarely do not finish a book once I start it. I will struggle through anything with hopes that at the end it was worth it. With this book, I decided I had no desire to finish it. Save your time, do not bother to pick up this book.
One wonders what JK Rowling had to get off her chest to compose such an insipid waste of a read. I was bored early on but struggled to page 90 (can I get a medal?) in the hope of things improving. They never did. Boring characters with lots of common flaws that I couldn't care less about. Life in an imaginary English town or two written with limited imagination and no awareness of what it takes to hold the reader's attention (JK?). If Voldemort had appeared I would have cheered him on (Down with (these particular) muggles!).
It was hard, but I managed to get through the first chapter. I can't believe that the author of the Harry Potter books could write this badly!
A casual vacancy is apparently the opening created when a town councilperson dies (or resigns) midterm. The Casual Vacancy opens with the untimely death of a benevolent, influential, and popular councilman in the fictional(?), idyllic, and uptight British village of Pagford. His death causes a chain reaction of personal and political events and consequences, a mosaic of interwoven small stories. There are a good two dozen characters with stories to be told.
The Casual Vacancy and I did not get off to a good start. The abundance of characters was difficult to keep track of for a while. And I had an initial impression of stilted writing and forced "adultness": an entire early paragraph is devoted to describing someone's breasts, and most of the penis references seemed jammed in.
Once I was able to mostly remember who was who, I started to sink into the plot(s) and the feeling of stiltedness vanished. The characters were marvelously varied and believable, often exhibiting minor embarrassing/shameful/dishonest behaviors that made them feel that much more real. The book reads like a study in human motivation; I loved that aspect of it. Hell, 20 years ago I WAS one of those characters. It was the last thing I expected from J.K. Rowling.
The characters might have benefited from just a tad more restraint...there seemed to be somewhat more screaming and yelling than was entirely necessary. But that's a minor complaint.
The Pagfordian history and politics were reasonably complex, completely credible, and critical to the main plot. And every character's personal plotline fit together with the Pagford story perfectly. I was impressed (and a little relieved) at how well everything clicked. I honestly did not expect to like The Casual Vacancy anywhere near as much as I did. Four and a half stars.
Note: It's not a very happy book. I expect it's going to get some backlash for that.
It is truly hard to believe that these small-minded uninteresting scatalogical characters could have sprung from the same mind that created the imaginative and whimsical world of Harry Potter. A small Engliosh town populated entirely by Dursleys.
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