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The Casual Vacancy (2012)

by J. K. Rowling

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
10,346573689 (3.41)2 / 304
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 facade 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 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?… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 528 (next | show all)
Quite a soap opera. Almost every shocking thing you can imagine is shoved into this book. I liked up until the last two parts. ( )
  sweetimpact | Jan 18, 2024 |
Wow, Jo. This is hella grown up. Sex, drugs, rape, abuse, neglect, and local politics. All very sad topics. In a way, this novel reminded me of a nonfiction book I read years ago called [b:Random Family|385255|Random Family Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx|Adrian Nicole LeBlanc|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348194436s/385255.jpg|909535]. They're both about the causes and consequences of poverty, and how and why efforts to help the poor fail so often.

Of course, [b:Random Family|385255|Random Family Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx|Adrian Nicole LeBlanc|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348194436s/385255.jpg|909535] was entirely about poor people, but The Casual Vacancy is also about the middle class. This book's main villain is Howard Mollison, a hugely obese man who owns a successful shop and is the heavyweight(!) in the local political scene. I thought J.K. made him a little too detestable, but it was all leading up to a point that really hit home well, the scene where the fat man is decrying the public funds spent on helping drug addicts and the doctor points out that (with socialized medicine) public funding has also been spent on his obesity-related illnesses.

I think this may be a book written by a bleeding heart liberal for bleeding heart liberals, so as a huge Harry Potter fan and a super bleeding heart liberal, how could I not like it? I also love what I think of as gossipy books: books about the nitty gritty dirty realistic details of everyday ordinary lives--stuff like John Updike or Anne Tyler. Who's cheating on whom? Who seems happy but secretly hates their life? Stuff like that.

Another thing I liked about this book is that the story was balanced between the adult and teen world. I think that may be why the book was overlong. There are like 12 main characters, maybe six adults and six teens (now that I think about it, maybe more--Wikipedia lists 19 characters). As we saw in HP, Rowling is especially gifted at capturing the worldview of young people. In HP it was angsty but in TCV it was downright depressing. Teenagers are crazy. But also compelling. We were all that young and stupid once. Well, maybe not as stupid as Krystal or as sociopathic as Fats or as depressed as Sukhvinder, but maybe more like Andrew, who I thought of as a zitty version of Harry if he'd never been a wizard.

I would NOT recommend this to fans of Harry Potter, unless you also happen to be an adult who doesn't mind reading super depressing stories about how our civilization fails people on so many levels.

Still, I liked it. ( )
  LibrarianDest | Jan 3, 2024 |
I had low expectations for this book for a number of reasons. As a fan of JKR's Potter books, I knew that anything not-Potter would inevitably feel like something of a letdown. For example, any time poor Patricia Cornwell writes any non-Scarpetta book, she gets roasted by her Scarpetta fans. Also, the reviews for this book were generally poor. Although my taste differs significantly from that of professional book snobs, um, *reviewers*, I find the aggregate user reviews on Goodreads and Audible to be generally in the ballpark. Finally, the reviews I read generally indicated that this book was dark and grim, with a downer of an ending. Had I not enjoyed the Potter world JKR built so much, I probably wouldn't have read this book at all.

Curiously, I had just been listening to Peyton Place on audio, and couldn't help but mentally compare the two. They are similar in theme - both are about the sordid realities hiding behind a small town's pretty facade, including the sort of small-town class politics and power struggles where the successful and unsympathetic fight with the successful and sympathetic over the town's civic responsibility to their "undeserving poor", as Alfred P Doolittle would say. I had the same difficulties at the start of the story, too. So many characters are introduced so rapidly that I simply couldn’t keep track of them all. This is a uniquely audio problem, because in a paper format, I’d be able to flip back and forth to remind myself what each character had been up to previously, until all the dots start connecting and the individual storylines come together.

I suppose the comparison to the Potter books is inevitable, but JKR is successful in repeating and improving on one of the things I loved about those books. The huge cast of characters is wonderfully drawn. Each character is unique, and each character is flawed in some way, and stays true to itself throughout the story arc. What she has improved upon in this adult book is that there is no clear division between the “good” characters and the “bad” characters. Even her most unlikeable characters have some positive qualities (or at least sympathetic ones, given their eventually revealed histories and situations), and we understand how those positive and negative qualities drive their actions. The characters come from all walks of life and all situations, from the congenitally wealthy to middle class to children of heroin addicts. Had the children’s books been written this way, I wouldn’t have wondered where the inhabitants of Knockturn Alley went to school, because they obviously weren’t at Hogwarts.

Many reviewers complained that the ending was too grim, but I have to disagree. There is tragedy at the end, but many characters have learned and grown from their experiences to varying degrees, and there is genuine hope for some at the end.

This is very much a character-driven story, to the degree that there seems to be very little plot at all. Halfway through the book, though I was enjoying the characters, I wondered if there was a point to the story. At the end, I can see the point. But anyone who prefers a story with some action driving toward a particular end will not be happy with this story. It’s really just about people and how they behave and think and interact with one another. It’s about how attitudes and prejudices create the kind of society we live in.

As I mentioned, I listened to this on audio. Tom Hollander read the story and did a fantastic job. Although he doesn’t attempt to create a unique voice for each character – that would have been nearly impossible with the number of characters – he read with feeling and I was easily able to distinguish one character’s speech from another. I enjoyed this very much, and may even possibly listen to it again sometime. ( )
  Doodlebug34 | Jan 1, 2024 |
I loved the character. Still love her writing but the story was not my fav. ( )
  lmauro123 | Dec 28, 2023 |
I loved the character. Still love her writing but the story was not my fav. ( )
  lmauro123 | Dec 28, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 528 (next | show all)
Set in the fictional village of Pagford, The Casual Vacancy at first seems to have all the trappings of the adorable-English-town novel—an updating of Jane Austen viewed through the loving lens of a Merchant Ivory production. But the book’s misanthropy is more indebted to Hardy or Somerset Maugham, both known for their deep distrust of humankind and their sense of the viciousness that can spring up among neighbors.
 
Rowling has spoken of the sense of risk in embarking on this novel. The Harry Potter series must have been a tough act to follow. What she wanted to do here, I guess, was to seize on the world we can all see without going through Platform 9¾. She has done that to stunning effect.
 
This is a novel of insight and skill, deftly drawn and, at the end, cleverly pulled together. It plays to her strengths as a storyteller. That will not stop the envious from carping.
added by eereed | editThe Economist (Sep 29, 2012)
 
It is not the sort of book that hordes of people would choose to read if its author had not also written a far more comforting series of stratospheric bestsellers. But perhaps the world will be better for them reading it. Rowling may not be an easy woman, but she uses her powers for good.
added by lampbane | editSalon, Laura Miller (Sep 28, 2012)
 
The Casual Vacancy is a sour novel, one that seems designed to leave Rowling’s biggest, most avid fans feeling as though she sort of hates them. For all its readability—I had no problem tearing through the whole thing today after buying it from a bewildered bookstore clerk at 7:30 in the morning—the book reveals that though she remains a careful observer of human foibles, Rowling the writer isn’t well-served by her enforced isolation.
added by DieFledermaus | editSlate, Dan Kois (Sep 27, 2012)
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rowling, J. K.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Demarty, PierreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hollander, TomNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hurford Brown, DebraPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Metaal, CarolienTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mutsaers, SabineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piraccini, SilviaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rekiaro, IlkkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spilling, DuncanCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To Neil
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Barry Fairbrother did not want to go out to dinner.
Quotations
He thought that it was all over, finished, done with. Andrew had never yet had reason to observe the first tiny bubble of fermenting yeast, in which was contained an inevitable, alchemical transformation.
It was strange how your brain could know what your heart refused to accept.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Wikipedia in English (3)

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 facade 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 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?

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Book description
The early death of a small town councilman reveals deep-rooted conflicts in the seemingly idyllic community of Pagford, which rapidly deteriorates in the face of cultural disputes, generation clashes, and a volatile election.
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