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The Casual Vacancy
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on 9 April 2015
As the Harry Potter books aren’t really my thing, I hadn’t taken much notice of J K Rowling’s books; I may have heard of ‘The Casual Vacancy’ but I had no idea what it was about. This changed when I watched the first episode of a recent TV adaptation, it seemed as though 'The Casual Vacancy' might be right up my street and indeed it was!

I liked the book because it’s character-driven; it’s about life in a little provincial town called Pagford, and the interactions between its various inhabitants, from deep friendships to lifelong jealousies and rivalries, from teenage infatuations to adults wanting someone they’re not allowed to want. A lot of the characters are not very likeable, but this makes the novel realistic; in ‘real life’ we don’t like everyone we meet!

I liked this novel also because, although written for the most part in a light-hearted, frequently humorous, way, it has moral content and contains probably more than its fair share of very heavy, topical issues; domestic violence, child neglect and abuse, self-harm, rape, drug abuse, troubled families, I could go on…

I didn’t particularly like the manner of speaking which the author gives to Terry and Krystal Weedon. I don’t know whether it is an accurate portrayal of how people like Terry and Krystal do speak, but it just seemed a bit patronising possibly? Although encouraging sympathy and support for needy groups within the community, I did feel that ‘The Casual Vacancy’ maybe panders to the worst possible stereotypes of a certain section of the population: a large number of the Fields’ population we are told live on benefits (well, at least if Miles and his ilk are to be believed), drug abuse is a problem on the estate, the only Fields family, and arguably the only working-class family, which plays a large role in the book is the extremely troubled Weedon one. Not that the middle-classes are let off lightly either, but at least more than one type of middle-class person is depicted.

That said, I very much enjoyed reading this book; J K Rowling is a great storyteller and I look forward to checking out her crime fiction in the near future.
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on 18 February 2018
Oh dear, this was awful, difficult to maintain concentration, get over the superfluous language and equally lack of plot - horribly superficial with nothing to commend it: some authors, like actors, ought to know when they are ahead ... and stop. OK, Harry Potter was an enormous success, and lacked somewhat in depth at that - but an easy tale, and an easy fantasy for transfer to the screen, so good for JKR - but not so this - an appalling lack of anything.
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on 7 April 2015
The cast of this book is more akin to East Enders than it is to Howgarts -so if you're expecting Harry Potter don't waste your time & money.

I found the book to be a very slow starter that has multiple characters and sub plots, which does make it a little hard to follow, especially if like me you tend to read it in small snapshots.

It gathers momentum especially towards the end, but be warned it's a long journey - and even at the almost inevitable conclusion you question what was the point of it all ?

To my mind the overiding theme throughout is one of social sterotypes and their inherent failings and Rowling is undoubtedly using this novel as a vehicle to have a pop at the blue rinse brigade ( hear, hear!!) whose "not in my back yard" rhetoric provides continuity across the many sub plots.
This is all the more pertinent in the month's leading up to a general election in the UK therefore if you scratch beneath the surface there is a lot more to this than initially meets the eye and the subject matter becomes very thought provoking.

This made it a wothwhile read for me a story based on reality not fantasy.
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on 23 January 2016
This is the first time I have ever read a JK Rowling book and it probably won't be the last. Nothing like I expected. A gritty no nonsense book with a touch of realism. The Story begins with the death of Councillor Barry Fairbrother opening up a casual vacancy which leads to tensions between different sides - the Pagford middle classes and the residents of the council estates of the Field. This opens up a complete can of worms with disastrous and tragic results. Central to the theme is how Barry Fairbrother touches the lives of all the main characters in the book and the repurcussions that stem from his death. Lots of very powerful characters in the book that will be hard to forget. Would love a sequel to this!
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on 15 February 2015
J K Rowling's first adult book has divided opinions. It centres around conflicts between the middle class residents of an almost idyllic country town and the neighbouring residents of a dilapidated housing estate. There is scarcely a likeable character in the book. We are used to dysfunctional families in modern novels but here every family is dysfunctional, with seething hatreds and frustrations separating the generations and the husbands and wives. Just one example is a dumpy teenage Asian girl who suffers from her GP mother's disdain that she is not a high achiever like her surgeon father, the GP mother herself and her siblings. She is mercilessly bullied at school, by the most revolting character, a teenage boy with sociopathic tendencies. Only one character is admirable - a foul mouthed teenage girl who battles to keep together her family, consisting of a junkie mother and a toddler younger brother.
And the ending of the book is horrible. I believe the upcoming BBC TV adaptation is going to change the ending.
There is also a torrent of 4 letter words. If you don't like repeated use of the F word don't read this book.
And yet ...and yet the book sucks you into the world Rowling has created. In spite of the characters being so unlikeable you still want to know what happens to them. Rowling is a master storyteller. Each twist of the plot creates a new direction, a new trail which you want to explore.
This book has encouraged me to start up reading her two detective novels, written under her pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, which star the wonderfully named private detective, Cormoran Strike. The first one is really good. It will get more than 3 stars when I finish it.
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on 3 March 2015
I have had this for a while and was prompted to hurry and read it before the show started and the plot was revealed to me!
To be honest it really took a while to get into the book, but I will never abandon a book. I am glad I stuck to the end. It was tediously slow for me to begin with and I didn't really see the point of it all, but the last few chapters were where (in my opinion) all the action happened and I was quite moved by the tragedy that occured at the end. Once finishing the book, I have to agree with those who stated that the characters had depth and were fully explored and had their own story. Reading through, you really feel like you are part of this community and these people could be your neighbours. There is no glorification of any charachter or place, everything is sadly very realistic and true to how society is today. It catches a glimpse of what may go on behind closed doors, how people are quick to judge and treat people on these (sometimes unjustified) sterotypes and misconceptions. The Weedon's are a prime example of this.
Summary - insight into a small community where everyone seems to know (or thinks they know) your business. True life "battles" faced by residents and how different events affect different people.
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on 16 June 2015
Goodness, is modern Britain really like this?
That's where I finished up at the end of The Casual Vacancy. I disliked all the characters, found nothing to sympathise with, and wanted to run a hundred miles from the town where it is set.
Ben Okri said "we are defined by the stories we tell ourselves". I often think about that when I see which contemporary British novels sell well, and this is one of those which makes me conclude that we are not a happy island.
The book is well written and plotted. I just disliked the view of society it portrayed. And I wonder whether it reflects the excellent Ms Rowling's state of mind. I do hope it doesn't.
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on 2 December 2017
Such beautiful sadness. The usual scattering of beautiful descriptions, a poignant death worthy of Dobby. Trainspotting in a sleepy home county village. With more toffs. Bit mind blowing after Harry Potter. Makes you consider what might be behind the headlines, and angle craving news stories. And so keenly real, given the right circumstances some will better themselves, many won't. Would have been interesting for Rowling to have done now like this.
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on 17 March 2015
What fantastic about this book is the depth of so many characters, you really feel you know each one by the end. The writing is fantastic and the whole book is gripping. The BBC TV mini-series is worth watching, but misses a lot of the detail and characterisation of the book, as well as some major events. There are so many sub-plots and back stories to each character that you become immersed in each one.

It follows the small village of Pagford, and it's residents, after one of the council members dies suddenly and the residents compete to fill his seat: what follows is much mystery, rivalry, discussion of difficult issues and betrayal. All topped off with a shock ending. A really great read.
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on 3 January 2014
I will start by saying that I have just finished reading this and it is not my sort of book but I read the "Cuckoo's calling" and loved it and I really enjoy the humor and small, descriptive details and the way that J.K Rowling writes. So I begrudgingly decided to give this a go.

The negative is that the book is slow and for me there was "no storyline" as such - it is really not my kind of book. It is just following the day-to-day lives of the people of Pagford. I am not one for Eastenders or gossip so this does not hold any interest for me, I struggled to get into it initially.

I completely disagree with those reviewing and saying that J.K is anti-middle class, snobbish, trying to break away by writing about drugs and abuse, stereotyping etc. They are not understanding what they are reading.

The book gets better, it is so well written that such a boring storyline comes alive with the humour and the development of the many characters. J.K knows how to develop a character so they come alive before your eyes and I am not aware of another author who can do this as well as J.K. The small details of characters and the awareness of different people in society and how they behave is simply astounding. You make judgement and perceive an individual in a particular way and then you find that you are wrong or you are given more information which allows you to understand why they are like they are. The characters judge each other and are also then wrong but they do not see the information that you are given.

I enjoyed this book but not sure I would recommend (unlike Cuckoo's calling) as it is a slow, difficult book and "no storyline". But I really enjoyed reading it personally and feel J.K is incredible in managing to bring alive a subject so boring.
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