Released on September 27, 2012, The Casual Vacancy is “blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising” and J.K. Rowling’s first adult novel outside of the Harry Potter world. The Casual Vacancy is set in a suburban town in the West Country of England called Pagford, where a man named Barry Fairbrother dies at an early age, leaving the town in shock. The major themes of this book include class, politics, and social issues. The paperback version of this novel was released on July 23, 2013. The Casual Vacancy was adapted for a miniseries in 2015.
When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the 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 first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish 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?
The Casual Vacancy was published worldwide by the Little, Brown Book group. The novel was the fastest-selling in the UK in three years. It became the 15th best-selling book of 2012 during its first week of release, and in three weeks the book’s total sales topped one million copies in English in all formats. The book won the Best Fiction category in the 2012 Goodreads Choice Awards and was hailed by TIME Magazine.
Rowling first had the idea on a flight to the US while on tour for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Rowling later joked about how this was similar to her conception of Harry Potter on a train to London. “Obviously I need to be in some form of vehicle to have a decent idea,” she said. “And I thought: local election! And I just knew. I had that totally physical response you get to an idea that you know will work. It’s a rush of adrenaline, it’s chemical. I had it with Harry Potter and I had it with this. So that’s how I know.”
Rowling made it very clear that the novel was adult literature. Critics feared that children would be drawn to the book because of the author, despite it being inappropriate for a young age. Rowling responded, “I’m a writer, and I will write what I want to write.” The novel deals with many adult themes, such as drugs, sex, infidelity, abuse, self-harm, and suicide. For two years, the working title was Responsible, until Rowling came across the term “casual vacancy,” which in politics means a situation in which a seat in a deliberative assembly is vacated during that assembly’s term. They arise through the death, resignation, or disqualification of a sitting member. In the novel’s case, Barry Fairbrother was a member of the Parish Council, whose sudden death causes a casual vacancy and therefore an election to fill his space.
There were several promotional events for the book, including appearances by Rowling at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on October 6, Lincoln Center in New York City on October 16, and the Lennoxlove Book Festival in Scotland on November 2. The Lincoln Center event was surrounded by controversy, when tickets were sold a day before they were supposed to and resold the next day, thus double-booking the seats. After a few days of speculation as to whose tickets would be honored, the event was moved to the larger David H. Koch Theater and all tickets were honored. Rowling was interviewed, read an excerpt from the book, and signed a copy of the book for everyone in the audience. Most of the MuggleNet staff was in attendance and agree that it was a highlight of their lives.
This summary is from Wikipedia. Warning: Contains spoilers.
The book is split into seven parts, and features varying narratives. Each section is headed by a definition from Charles Arnold-Baker’s book Local Council Administration. The first part depicts the aftermath of the death of local Pagford Parish Councillor, Barry Fairbrother, who suffers a burst aneurysm in the car park of a local golf course. The inhabitants of the town share the news with their friends and relatives, and chaos ensues. The problem arises in deciding whether local council estate “The Fields” (which includes methadone rehabilitation clinic, Bellchapel) should remain as part of Pagford, or instead join local city Yarvil.
After the election date is announced, the children of those who are standing for election decide to make damaging posts on the Parish Council online forum. Andrew, son of Simon Price, is the first person to do so, operating under the name “The_Ghost_Of_Barry_Fairbrother” and informing everyone that his father had bought a stolen computer. Sukhvinder (who, like Andrew, learns about hacking in ICT class) follows, posting that her mother, Dr. Parminder Jawanda, was in love with Barry. Thirdly, Fats Wall posts, claiming his adoptive father, Cubby, a headmaster, suffers from obsessive fear of having molested a child without any memory of the fact. Finally, in a desperate attempt to relieve the guilt weighing on him for costing his father his job, Andrew confides in Simon and posts that Council leader, Howard Mollison, is having an affair with his business partner Maureen. Howard’s son, Miles Mollison, is the winning candidate, much to the displeasure of his wife, Samantha, who confesses she no longer loves him, only to eventually reconcile.
Another focus of the novel is the traumatic life of Krystal Weedon. 16-year-old Krystal lives in “The Fields” with her mother Terri who is a prostitute and heroin addict and 3-year-old brother Robbie. Social worker Kay is determined for Terri to stop her drug use and take responsibility for the care of Robbie. However, Terri relapses and her drug dealer Obbo rapes Krystal. Spurred on to start a family elsewhere, Krystal has unprotected sex with Fats in an attempt to become pregnant. It is during one of these instances that Robbie runs away from the pair in a park, eventually falling and drowning in a river, despite Sukhvinder’s attempt to save him. Krystal is so distraught that she commits suicide by taking a heroin overdose, the novel culminating with their funeral.
The Casual Vacancy is uniquely told from an omniscient point of view. The Telegraph published a guide to the book’s many main characters. Warning: Contains spoilers.
- Barry Fairbrother, a member of the Parish Council who was from “The Fields.” He ran the school’s girls’ rowing team and was particularly fond of Krystal Weedon. It is his death that rocks the community of Pagford.
- Mary Fairbrother, widow of Barry Fairbrother.
- Howard Mollison, leader of the Parish Council, owner of a delicatessen and married to Shirley. He is obese and suffers a heart attack after Andrew’s accusations that he has had an affair with business partner Maureen.
- Shirley Mollison, wife of Howard Mollison and mother of Miles. She has an absolute sense of devotion to Howard and all of his endeavors, until it comes to light that her husband may have had an affair with his business partner Maureen.
- Miles Mollison, lawyer who works in the same lawyer buffet than Gavin; he is the son of Howard and Shirley, brother of Pat, and is married to Samantha. Miles runs for and eventually wins the council election.
- Samantha Mollison, wife of Miles and owner of a bra shop. Samantha is shown to lose interest in Miles, kissing sixteen year-old Andrew Price and fancying “Jake,” a member of one of her daughter’s favorite boybands. She is disliked by Miles’ mother, Shirley, and appears to have an alcohol problem.
- Krystal Weedon, resident of “The Fields” and love interest of Fats Wall. She suffers a traumatic childhood, through the drug-addiction of her mother and is raped by her mother’s dealer. She commits suicide following the death of her brother, Robbie.
- Terri Weedon, a heroin-addict and prostitute. She is the mother of Krystal and Robbie and resides in “The Fields.” She attempts to rehabilitate through the Bellchapel clinic.
- Colin “Cubby” Wall, Deputy Headteacher of the local comprehensive. He considers himself to be a close friend of Barry’s and stands for election. This is later marred by anonymous accusations made by his adoptive son, Fats, that he is afraid of being accused of molesting a child. This considerably worsens his obsessive compulsive disorder, which leads him to believe he has committed crimes that in fact he hasn’t.
- Tessa Wall, wife of Cubby and adoptive mother of Fats. She is the school’s guidance counselor and has regular meetings with Krystal Weedon, although she later disapproves of her relationship with her son.
- Stuart “Fats” Wall, son of Colin and Tessa, Andrew’s best friend and popular at school. He is shown to bully Sukhvinder and begins a sexual relationship with Krystal Weedon. The novel ends with him isolated from his friends and family due to his partial responsibility for Robbie’s death and the comments made on the council website, as well as kissing Gaia, Andrew’s love interest.
- Andrew Price, son of Simon and Ruth and Fats’ best friend. He is shown to develop a romantic interest in Gaia Bawden, who is new to his school, eventually securing a weekend job in Howard’s delicatessen to be around her.
- Simon Price, husband of Ruth Price and Andrew and Paul’s father. He decides to stand for election so he can receive bribes and is shown to physically and verbally abuse his children and his wife, but in the last days his behave improves, stopping the abuse and bonds with his son.
- Kay Bawden, a social worker from London and mother of Gaia. She moves to Pagford to be with Gavin and works closely with Krystal and Terri for a while.
- Gavin Hughes, a lawyer and Kay’s boyfriend, although he is shown to resent her throughout the novel. He claims he was Barry’s best friend and eventually confesses his love for his widow, Mary.
- Gaia Bawden, Kay’s daughter. Described as attractive and the romantic interest of many pupils at her school, notably Andrew. She befriends Sukhvinder and detests Pagford, mostly because she knows Gavin wasn’t really interested in her mom and because she was dating a guy named Marco De Luca; she wants to move to Reading to be with her father. She eventually kisses Fats Wall, much to the disappointment of Andrew and Sukhvinder, but she regrets that and rebound with both in Krystal’s funeral.
- Parminder Jawanda, doctor and mother of Sukhvinder. She is a member of the Parish Council and supporter of keeping “The Fields,” although her motive is suggested to be because she was in love with Barry.
- Sukhvinder Jawanda, daughter of Parminder. She is shown to be bullied by Fats and self-harms. She was a member of the rowing team along with Krystal Weedon, and eventually risks her life in order to attempt to save Krystal’s brother, Robbie.
- Vikram Jawanda, husband of Parminder Jawanda and father of Sukhvinder and her siblings. He is a heart surgeon and had performed Howard’s triple heart bypass.
- The_Ghost_Of_Barry_Fairbrother was the secret identity of some Pagford’s teens (sometimes without the knowledge of who was the other) who use the old account of Barry Fairbrother in the Pagford council’s forum in order to reveal secrets of some members. The identity of the Ghost was: 1) Andrew Price, who reveals that his dad, Simon Price, furnishes his house with stolen furniture and takes up extra painting jobs without notifying his bosses; 2) Sukhvinder Jawanda, who reveals her mother, Parminder is in love with Barry; 3) Fats Wall, who reveals his father, Colin Wall, the Deputy Headmaster of Fats’s school, fears that a pupil might accuse him of inappropriate sexual behavior; 4) Andrew Price again, who reveals the affair of Howard Mollison and his businesses partner Maureen.
On December 3, 2012, BBC One and BBC Drama commissioned an exclusive adaptation of The Casual Vacancy from the Blair Partnership, which represents Rowling. Rowling will work closely with the project. There are three one-hour episodes planned.
Casting Director Lucy Bevan (Pirates of The Caribbean, Nanny McPhee Returns, Snow White and the Huntsman) is searching for young actors to play a number of roles in new BBC and HBO television series, The Casual Vacancy, based on a novel by JK ROWLING.
Filming from 16 June through to the end of August, The Casual Vacancy is to be directed by Jonny Campbell (Shameless, Eric & Ernie), with Ruth Kenley-Letts producing. The book is adapted by Sarah Phelps.
If you are interested in any of the roles below, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, age, headshot and details of any availability conflicts, as well as information of any previous acting experience by 4pm Wednesday, 9th April.
15 – 16. Thin, sallow face. Funny, laconic and nonchalant. Best friends with ARF. Disrespectful of what he sees as loser parents. Pleased with himself, smokes weed. Light West Country accent.
Playing age – 15 – 16
Appearance – White
15-16. Has a bad complexion, uncomfortable about the way he looks. Suffers at the hands of his horrible father. Keeps his pain to himself. Devotedly in love with beautiful GAIA. Light West Country accent.
Playing age – 15 – 16
Appearance – White
12. Younger brother of ARF. Terrified of his father, and always stands to attention when he comes into the room. Arf looks after him when their father is bullying him. Light West Country accent.
Playing age – 12
Appearance – White
15/16. Cocky, all swagger, sass and a foul mouth. She also has the ability to melt your heart. Krystal is brave and a fighter; she is the sole carer of her heroin addict mum (Terri) and her younger brother Robbie (aged 5). A terrible fate awaits Krystal. Light West Country accent.
Playing age – 15-16
Appearance – White
Cast and Crew
Michelle Austin – Kay Bawden
Marie Critchley – Ruth Price
Monica Dolan – Tess Wall
Keeley Forsyth – Terri Weedon
Sir Michael Gambon – Howard Mollison
Richard Glover – Simon Price
Keeley Hawes – Samantha Mollison
Rufus Jones – Miles Mollison
Rory Kinnear – Barry Fairbrother
Abigail Lawrie – Krystal Weedon
Simon McBurney – Colin “Cubby” Wall
Julia McKenzie – Shirley Mollison
J.K. Rowling … (novel)
Sarah Phelps … (screenplay)
Tony Slater-Ling … director of photography
The series is being produced by Bronte Film and Television, the independent production company run by Neil Blair and J.K. Rowling. Production began on July 7, 2014, in South West England.
According to IMDb, The Casual Vacancy was adapted for a miniseries, working with BBC One and HBO for one season, consisting of three episodes. The production began late 2014 and on February 15, 2015, the first of three episodes premiered in the United Kingdom and on April 29, 2015, it premiered in the United States. As of March 1, 2015, the miniseries concluded with its finale.
A fan’s dream: Meeting J.K Rowling at Lennoxlove Book Festival
By Laura (Snapescape)
Yesterday, November 2, 2012, I was lucky enough to be one of the few to meet J.K. Rowling as she attended a small book festival on the outskirts of Edinburgh, during the last stop of her The Casual Vacancy promotional tour.
The setting couldn’t have been more perfect. Set in an illuminated 13th century house estate, complete with gargoyles peering down at us from the large iron gates, I couldn’t help but think of Hogwarts. It was magical.
After having gaped and awed at the surrounding building, we made our way towards the garden, where we would witness J.K. Rowling in all her splendor. Well, I say that, but I wasn’t fortunate enough to get tickets to the actual event, so I had to slum it with all the other peasants in a nearby marquee and watch Jo on the big screen. Not that I’m complaining though; we had a great time.
Muriel Gray, Scottish journalist, was the interviewer for the evening, and as she welcomed Jo on stage, there was an eruption of cheers from the peasant tent. Throughout the evening, Jo was up to her usual standard of being witty, funny, and just generally a joy to listen to. She is so refreshingly frank and open, willing to share past experiences with the audience, like how she was bullied as a child and how this made her understand and empathize with Sukhvinder’s problem of self-image in the novel.
When discussing the process of writing The Casual Vacancy, she commented on how liberated she felt about not having to commit to deadlines. Gray was quick to mention how the concept of the book would really make a great series, to which Jo proceeded to jokingly scold her and tell her not to give anyone any ideas! However, she did say that she still followed the same plan of structure as Harry Potter: writing page after page of background stories for her characters.
She even wrote passages in the first person narrative of her characters, in order to get a better feel for their voice. During the Q&A session, when asked what advice she would give budding authors, she simply answered “structure,” explaining that planning is everything.
Probably one of the most iconic quotes of the night was spurred from a question regarding the change of genre in The Casual Vacancy. Jo mentioned how you can’t follow the same rules in fantasy as you can in other genres, there are certain things you don’t do, and concluding, “You don’t have sex near unicorns.” We’ll bear that piece of advice in mind, Jo.
There were numerous funny incidents during the evening, of which my personal favorite was the following: When Jo decided to read a passage from the disastrous dinner scene in the book and asked to be handed her glasses, she was unfortunately handed the wrong pair, exclaiming, “These aren’t mine!” Following this, she decided to try on Muriel Gray’s but alas, they wouldn’t do. Jo then suggested going through all the audience members in order to find the perfect pair! She must have been remembering that important Ollivander wisdom: The glasses choose the reader, Harry. Or something along those lines…
Because my memory is patchy due to the emotions of the evening, I will just casually mention a few random facts about Jo that we learnt during the evening: Jo is not attracted to younger boys (not even Chris Hemsworth, who she hasn’t heard of, incidentally), her biggest inspiration as a writer is French novelist Colette, and her favorite character to write about in the Harry Potter series was Albus Dumbledore.
Following the screening, I joined the queue for the book signing. Snaking around inside the beautiful house adorned with many portraits on the wall that were unfortunately static, the queue seemed to be the length of at least basilisks. Eventually, we entered the aptly named Great Hall, where Jo was signing the books. I don’t think I could really ever describe the surreal sensation I felt standing in front of her. I thanked her for the Potter books and she told me I was very welcome. She then looked up at me from signing the book, peeking over her reading glasses, and noticed the Alohomora! T-shirt I had on, saying “I like your T-shirt.”
Life = made.
Jo Succeeds in Adult Author Debut
By Caleb Graves
(Mostly spoiler free)
Before I even started reading The Casual Vacancy, I knew that J.K. Rowling’s latest book was going to be extremely different than the seven that took me into the magical world of my teenage years. Aside from the bits and pieces from reviews here and there, the author herself had very clearly stated it was going to be very different from Harry Potter. I’ve never known Rowling to lie, so I took her at her word.
Like most of the Rowling fans out there, I was simply excited a new book was coming out. Of course, I longed for another midnight release party, followed closely by a nonstop cover-to-cover reading of the new book. That experience, though, had been left back with Hogwarts too. But I was still excited.
As the release date drew nearer, I thought more about the teaser for the book, and started to realize… I generally don’t read books like this. I practically never seek out books that are explicitly “adult” in nature. But the political tone of it did intrigue me a bit, and that was enough to still get me to the bookstore and purchase the book. After just the first few pages, it was immediately clear to me that this was not going to be a book that I would speed through, but would rather have to take much slower. In that first chapter, I honestly wondered to myself, “Am I going to even like this?”
The answer ended up being yes. Definitely.
Though it took me a bit to get used to the writing style, I appreciated and enjoyed so much of Rowling’s approach. Upon completing the book, I absolutely loved it.
So why did I love it? Okay, let’s go.
First off, there’s the large number of characters. I have never read a novel that introduced so many characters, so quickly. But I absolutely loved having such a wide perspective when it came to learning about Pagford. The entire book is a journey you take with each of these characters, rather than just one, and you slowly learn more and more about their lives, both good and bad. The town’s story is not just told by one protagonist; it’s the story of the entire citizenry.
Despite the large number of characters, Rowling successively juxtaposes their lives in the ongoing aftermath of Barry Fairbrother’s death. You never lose sight of how these individual lives are so deeply interwoven, and constantly discover new and more intriguing threads to the web that is the small town of Pagford.
Next, Rowling takes an innovative approach with the book’s point of view, and in my opinion, shines with brilliance. In her approach, Rowling refuses to accept orthodox conventions when it comes to splitting up the characters’ perspectives. I’m definitely used to authors starting a new chapter when they want to move from character to character, so the change from this was a bit startling at first. But when I did adjust, I found the method so compelling, and it made the entire story seem much more fluid rather than a set of broken sections in a broader tale.
The entire book is about how these people in this tiny town react to one another, and how these reactions perpetuate the overall plot. So it makes perfect sense for Rowling to have such a continuous narration that does not limit the perspective to just a couple of characters. The reader begins to get to know these characters so well, that when one of these in-chapter shifts occurs, it feels very natural. I feel this point-of-view approach was absolutely necessary for Rowling given her use of a large array of characters that are much more than secondary stand-ins. One thing that always amazes me about Rowling’s writing is her ability to structure a novel in a way that makes perfect sense. Potter fans saw this through the variation she used throughout the series, and it is definitely the case here. At her interview and reading event in New York City in October, Rowling said one of the most challenging things about this book was getting the structure down. It’s clear she took no shortcuts in this process, and I think it worked out beautifully.
Also, there is a refreshing departure from the binary grouping of good and evil. This is why I absolutely fell in love with the book. In Pagford, no one is perfect. No one is completely good and there are only two characters that could possibly be described as completely bad (as Rowling also discussed in her New York interview). This frustrates some readers. They want someone to cheer on who can beat all the odds in the end, and they want the bad guy to meet defeat in the finale. But this is not what readers find in The Casual Vacancy, and this is not what we find in real life.
Reading this book, I felt unbelievably conflicted, trying to determine which characters I aligned myself with and which ones I hated. Eventually, I realized this internal struggle is intentional. This is the beauty of the book: There is no black and white, but countless regions of gray. Every character does something questionable, and for these actions there is a hint of justification, but the reader is left with the question of whether or not the extent of these actions really are justified.
As you read about these characters and the good and bad decisions they make, you struggle with making sense of it all. For me, this is how Rowling really grabbed and pulled me into the story. There were times where I had to pause, put my book down, and sit and think about something a character had just done. I would wonder if it was fair to judge them and even ask myself if I would have reacted the same way.
In shaping this dynamic, Rowling never holds back. When she says adult, she means adult. She was very explicit about this, so you should not go into reading this novel with the hope that it will be anything like the final stages of the Harry Potter series. It’s not. There are some very mature elements to this novel, and even though the language is at times very candid, I never felt it was being pushed. Reality is not always picturesque or appealing. Horrible things happen to both good and bad people, and Rowling never shies away from honesty.
Finally, the end of the book breaks your heart and leaves its mark. Before reading the book, I had read interviews where Rowling said the end of the book was tragic, and it was likely to send you into tears. As I went through the book, I was very skeptical of this. I figured there was very little that could make me feel sorry about whatever happened to most of these characters, given all of their flaws and poor decisions. But this is what Rowling plays to so well. The more you learn about these characters, the more you want things to get better for them. You see tiny openings where they can actually repair themselves and get back on track. Occasionally, these tiny openings are even used successfully.
But life doesn’t always end happily for everyone, and Rowling plays true to this. I have never felt such an overwhelming flood of varying emotions at the end of a stand-alone novel. Without spoiling the book, there’s a pretty momentous event near the end. While this event draws the story to a close, it’s the reaction to the event, rather than the event itself, that completes the masterpiece. You so desperately want these people to change and become better after everything that happens. Some do in fact make moves toward change, while others simply do not. The final pages are beautifully tragic and impactful. Rowling leaves her readers with a wave of grief, but also an emotional display of heroism.
If you’re prepared to handle mature themes and adult language, The Casual Vacancy is well worth the read.
The Quality Vacancy
(Mostly spoiler free)
Okay, I don’t even know how to start. I wanted to like this book so badly. I REALLY wanted to like it. And I was convinced that I would. Whenever anyone voiced doubts about the book, I would reply defiantly, “Has Jo ever let us down yet?” Sure, this book would be very different from Harry – it would be adult, and realistic, and all that. But surely anything Jo wrote would be good? I’ve read adult books, I’ve read realistic books. Let me just reiterate that I really, really wanted to like this book.
Now, might as well address the erumpent in the room: This book just isn’t very good. I don’t think I’ve ever been this disappointed by a work of fiction. I feel like I just found out Santa isn’t real.
But the reason why it’s not very good, that’s what really shocked me. Leaving aside plot and characters and all that (which I suppose could subjectively be considered good or bad), there is the inescapable fact that this book just isn’t well-written. This is the last possible complaint I thought I could have about any book of Jo’s – her writing is some of the best ever. So I really don’t know what happened this time around.
What is the first tip about writing that I learned in sixth grade? DO NOT SWITCH PERSPECTIVES. This is a no-brainer. If I’m writing about Bobby’s point of view, I can’t switch to Billy’s point of view randomly. It’s disorienting and ineffective, and every single writer knows not to do this. And this is what Jo does!
This book is written in omniscient third person, but Jo clearly feels comfortable doing limited third person. So she tries to have her cake and eat it too. Therefore, we get jarring insights into different characters’ minds halfway through a passage. This is clumsy, and it’s especially confusing when you’re being introduced to an enormous barrage of characters.
What I don’t get is that it’s not like Jo doesn’t know how to write in omniscient third person. There are three instances of it in the Potter books: the latter half of “The Boy Who Lived” (SS1), “Spinner’s End” (HBP2), and “The Dark Lord Ascending” (DH1). And all of these are written extremely well. As are the parts written in limited third person, be it from the perspective of Frank Bryce (“The Riddle House,” GF1), John Major (“The Other Minister,” HBP1), or Harry Potter (the rest of the series, obviously).
If Jo wanted to take us inside the heads of different characters, she should break it up by section, with headings stating the character whose point of view we’re in. It’s not like this is a novel concept – just look at Michael Scott’s Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, for example. Or if you want a more enjoyable read, Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus.
But this issue goes further. Even if Jo had formatted this properly, there’s the overwhelming amount of characters. We jump into the heads of well over a dozen characters right away, who all make references to other characters. This is further complicated by the copious nicknames involved. How does Jo expect us to understand who all these characters are right off the bat? Perhaps she has forgotten, in the years since Potter, that introducing characters is supposed to be a gradual process? I’m still a bit fuzzy on who some minor characters are after finishing the book. If she’s going to lob a town’s worth of characters at us, at least have a glossary of them or something so we can keep track. I care even less about the characters if I don’t know whom I’m reading about.
Before I get into the adult content of the book, let me just say that I’m no prude. I go to college in New York City – I’m not exactly a stranger to profanity or vulgarity, nor to discussion of sexual things. I’ve read adult books about such things and enjoyed them. Also, the complaints in this section appeal mostly to Part 1 of the book, which is far and away the worst – the rest of the book slowly progressed from dreadful to passable.
One of the things that we all loved about Harry Potter was the wealth of detail. Jo’s attention to the minutiae of the wizarding world made it come alive for us. Unfortunately, her eye for detail, while splendid for describing a fantasy world, is not as pleasant describing other things. For instance, “lying […] in a pool of his own vomit” (page 5), the paragraph devoted to sagging breasts (page 8), or the long paragraph devoted to a penis’s lack of functionality due to the folds of an obese stomach (page 32). Quite frankly, I think I could have led a happy life without ever reading the above three descriptions. I don’t see the literary value added.
There is a place for talking about breasts and genitalia – when it’s relevant to the story. When Andrew is crushing on Gaia, phrases like “an ache in his heart and in his balls” (page 22) are perfectly welcome. When there’s no context, there’s really no need.
I find the swearing less objectionable, but I do think that Jo went a bit overboard with that as well. We get it, the Weedons have potty-mouths (along with many other characters). I think after a page of dialogue that contained more F-bombs than not, the point was driven home. It took me out of the story, trying to actually figure out what they were saying through the swear words.
All these things do get better after Part 1 – perhaps Jo thought she had made her impression, that we all now believed she was an adult writer. As it was, I wish she hadn’t tried so hard to prove herself – I think if the heavy themes hadn’t impressed upon us the adultness of the story, things like the rape scene would have.
Now that I’ve torn apart the writing style, let’s talk about the actual content of the story. I’ll start with the characters.
My oh my, but there are a lot of characters. That’s fine – there were lots of characters in Harry Potter, and that was one of the best things about it. But there’s a key difference: Where most of the Potter characters were likable, just about none of the characters in this book are. It’s a town full of detestable people. And jumping perspectives from one horrible person to another does not make me care about any of them. I ended up barely invested in any of them.
Perhaps Jo was going for a Wuthering Heights effect, where you read about horrible people with detachment and don’t mind their suffering. Except the writing makes it seem like we’re supposed to empathize with the characters… and that’s just not happening.
This heading has a question mark because I’m still not certain there was one at all. I suppose the thing about filling Barry’s seat could qualify as a plot, though that emerged only halfway through the book and fizzled out for the most part. The struggle about “The Fields” could be considered a plot, though it’s written like a subplot. And none of the other stories occurring seemed very plot-like either.
For an analogy, imagine reading a book that talked about SPEW, Buckbeak’s execution, and Ludo Bagman’s gambling addiction. Sure, they’re tenuously connected because they bump into each other once or twice. But without Harry vs. Voldemort as the series’ central storyline, it would be a feeble book, wouldn’t it?
I imagined, upon reading the book summary, that Barry’s death would cause a vacancy on the council, and the squabbling over the vacancy would throw a town into chaos. Instead, I get a town that’s already horribly off, and it’s all marginally connected because everyone knew Barry or knew of him.
Essentially, this book is a town full of awful people, and we get five hundred pages of them being horrible to each other and gossiping about each other. Which would all have been a delightful backdrop to a story, but it does not constitute an actual plot. Maybe Jo just had all these ideas floating in her head and decided to try and combine them into a novel, in lieu of just writing short stories about them. And they would have been interesting stories, I suspect, if they were not interspersed with all the waffle of them gossiping about each other.
So to wrap up, this book is poorly written, full of vile characters, and lacking a plot. I really cannot think up anything to recommend this book.
Put it this way: I spent two weeks in a row staying up until 3 a.m. rereading Harry Potter for the thirteenth time. I didn’t bother opening this book outside of my subway commutes, not until the last hundred pages or so, when it became marginally interesting as the many conflicts reached a head (not that there was much in the way of resolution for any of them). It was a chore to finish, and if it had been written by anyone else, I would not have bothered.
I’ve talked to other people about the book, in the vain hope that it would get good at some point, or that at least someone was enjoying it. I’ve yet to find anyone who had something good to say. It’s been rather like high school, where my entire class was forced to read Shakespeare or something, and people would grudgingly talk about how they couldn’t wait to be done. And this is perhaps most disappointing of all, that unlike Pottermore or the HP movies, no one seems to be enjoying this.
It’s not that I think Jo is a bad writer now (though I no longer deem her infallible). I think that the constraints Harry Potter placed on her – one point of view, mostly suitable for children, etc. – made her writing good. Without any self-imposed filters (because let’s face it, what editor would tell Jo Rowling that her book is bad?), she went unchecked and produced this.
I think I’ll go return my copy of the book to Barnes & Noble because there isn’t a chance in hell I’ll reread this – struggling through it once was enough. I would not recommend reading this. If you’ve started, go ahead and finish it because it does get better as it goes on – it just never gets good enough to warrant starting in the first place.
I scarcely need to say how upset I am by all of this and how badly I wanted to love this book. But perhaps it was just a fluke, and I’ll have faith that Jo’s next book will be better.
Little, Brown Book Group announced that the new novel for adults by J.K. Rowling is entitled The Casual Vacancy. The book was published worldwide in the English language in hardback, e-book, unabridged audio download, and on CD on Thursday, September 27, 2012.
Little, Brown Book Group: Three times winner of the KPMG Publisher of the Year Award, in 1994, 2004, and 2010, Little, Brown has an award-winning publishing programme across eight imprints: Little, Brown, Abacus, Virago, Sphere, Orbit, Atom, Piatkus, and Hachette Digital. Little, Brown Book Group has been a member of the Hachette UK group since 2006. Further information can be found at www.littlebrown.co.uk.
Hachette UK is the most diversified book publishing group in the UK, with a unique policy of encouraging its publishing houses to operate autonomously. Amongst its houses and imprints are Hachette Children’s Books, Headline Publishing Group, Hodder & Stoughton, Hodder Education, John Murray, Little, Brown Book Group, Octopus Publishing Group, Orion Publishing Group, Sceptre, Virago, and Weidenfeld & Nicolson, with international publishers and distributors Hachette Australia, Hachette New Zealand, Hachette India, Hachette Ireland, and Hachette Middle East. Further information can be found at www.hachette.co.uk.
ISBN 9781408704202 (hardback) price: £20.00
ISBN 9781405519229 (e-book) price: £11.99
ISBN 9781405519212 (audio download) price: £20.00
ISBN 9781405519205 (CD) price: £30.00
ISBN 9780751552867 (paperback) price: £7.99 – Released on July 18, 2013
Shortly after announcing the release of The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling announced that she would be embarking on a book tour across Europe and the United States. Rowling’s first stop was in London at the Southbank Centre before traveling to The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival in London. Finally, she spoke at the Lennoxlove Book Festival in her home country of Scotland, which was the only appearance she made there to discuss The Casual Vacancy.
J.K. Rowling made a rare public appearance in the United States to promote The Casual Vacancy at the Lincoln Center in New York City. This appearance was the only one in the United States to promote her new book. This was a highly anticipated event, and thousands of people showed up to see and hear J.K. Rowling discuss her new voyage into writing for adults.