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?
I have to say, I was seriously excited about this departure book for Rowling. Harry Potter had proved she was an incredibly talented writer, capable of sustained and lavishly intricate plots, strong characters and finessed stories worth repeat readings. I didn't really care this book would be adult or the speculation it would be grittier than expected. I knew she was an author I loved to read, I was pretty sure she could sell me a used vacuum should she choose to.
Turns out, she can't. And nobody was more surprised by this then me.
When the first rounds of reviews started rolling in, panning the book left right and center I thought pfft, every reviewer wants to be the reviewer to dish Rowling's latest. Then bloggers I follow started tweeting DNF (did not finish) status for the book and I started wondering what in heavens name is going on. But I had rushed out release day and bought my copy, and it was sitting on my shelf awaiting my two 5 hour plane trips and sojourn in the mountains. My reasoning was J.K. Rowling had gotten me through several long trips before and I would trust nobody else to entertain me the way she does. So I was committed, plus there was no way I wasn't going to read this baby and have my own opinion on it.
Half way through my first flight, as I was bored to death through an extended rant by Fats (one of several teen characters) about his views on authentic versus inauthentic motivations, reactions and lifestyles, I had a moment where I dearly would have loved to DNF this book myself. It was the longest 6 and 3/4 pages of my life, and by the end of it I couldn't help thinking, Am I supposed to like ANYONE in this wretched book??!
A 503 page book that constantly oscillates POV through a large cast of characters, all living in the small town of Pagford, The Casual Vacancy had loads of potential. There are underlying surprises and back stories to every relationship, and the history of Pagford, the Fields and Yarvil are tied up in it all to some degree. The reveals are intriguing, and I was often caught up in where she was taking me, what the big finish would be.
Basically every single character is either sexual abusive, physically abusive, emotionally abusive, or have been abused in one of these ways at some past point, is a: drug addict, self harmer, bullied, in a horrendously unhappy marriage, or mentally ill. Every. Single. Person. Something stinks here. I mean seriously, even if you're trying to make a point (obviously) there is no such thing as such a single mindedly miserable town of people. Give me one happy person as contrast, at the very least. It was unrelentingly depressing. Just when you think someone has hit rock bottom and it can't get worse, they get raped or something else horrendous.
Which also meant I liked nobody. There wasn't even one character I was pushing for. Not even when the various redemption's started getting passed around at the end. By then it was too late, I disliked everyone far to unanimously to feel generous about forgiving them.
Also, the ending was possibly the biggest let down of the book. I was sure all these complex knotted up relationships would somehow come together in some impressive, unexpected way in the end. This woman wrote Harry Potter, how could it not be a magnificent blow out ending? Oh it was epically depressing, I mean, if I thought the build up was depressing it had nothing on the ending. But the fancy turn of events I was expecting, the reveals of enduring love or surprise twists where the bad guy isn't, all the things that blew my mind in her previous works, they were all missing. There was no finesse, no intricately woven plot that needs repeat readings to appreciate all the myriad nuancing. It was just done.
Finally there is a very good reason there was a constant refrain of "Argh! Potty mouth Rowling!!" upon release. Within the first 34 pages the number of times, Penises, Vulva's, sexual acts, and other surprising things are referred to is not only shocking, but more so because they're totally unnecessary. I can't see how it's anything other than a concerted effort to up her writing to an indisputable adult level.
Thought Pagford's delicatessen would not open until nine thirty, Howard Mollison had arrived early. He was an extravagantly obese man of sixty-four. A great apron of stomach fell so far down in front of his thighs that most people thought instantly of his penis when they first clapped eyes on him, wondering when he had last seen it, how he washed it, how he managed to perform any of the act for which a penis is designed.All in all, The Casual Vacancy was none of the things I've come to expect in a J.K. Rowling novel. But I'm curious about those who enjoyed it, what did you like about it?
The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling
Published by Little Brown and Company, September 27th, 2012
Buy The Casual Vacancy on Amazon