The Casual Vacancy Review- A Town At Poltical War


Hey readers, It’s another book review this post, but don’t worry I am working on the second DD chapter and should hopefully have it up soon. So, for the last few days I’ve been reading J.K Rowling’s latest book The Casual Vacancy. I’ve read about 150 pages now and have decided to stop reading it and maybe pick it up some time after Christmas. It’s not often that I put a book down after that many pages- especially when this novel is 503 pages long. But I’ve a number of problems with this book and that’s way I’ve stopped reading it for now. So in light of me not actually finishing the it, I’m not really going to talk about the plot much and I might have to do a follow up post on this later on. But here are my thoughts so far.

J .K. Rowling is known around the world as the creator and writer of Harry Potter and his series of seven novels. HP became a phenomenon across the different age groups and has a massive fan base. So, whilst everyone begged for there to be another HP book or even one that connected with it though background characters, Rowling decided to write a novel for the adult readership. That in itself is fair enough, writers like to experiment with different genres, age groups and themes. It helps give a freshness to their writing and allows them to be more creative. I’ve heard though-once again not read any reviews, that most of the HP fans are not so taken with The Casual Vacancy and I can understand why.

When I picked it up I told myself not to think about HP and not to compare it, for it was going to be completely different and yes it is. The front cover of the book is very bold with it’s red and yellow colours and the white lettering. The black x cross in the centre does draw the eye and it does look very attractive. The book itself-the hardback cover version-is large and heavy. Rowling wrote this book for adults, but it doesn’t look very adulty to me. The adult version covers they did for HP looked a lot better then this! I know that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but there’s just something about this ones that seems out of place. Yes, it is eye catching enough, but it seems to be aimed at a teenager/young adult readership.

The synopsis of the book begins with ‘A big novel about a small town…’ and that in itself sounds very interesting. We then learn that the novel is about the sudden death of Barry, who was on the Parish Council and that his now empty seat is about to start a big war in the town. Mixed into this are the sub-wars of rich/poor, teenager/parents, wives/husbands, teachers/pupils and neighbours/friends. So it does sound very exciting. But within the first 50 or so pages of this I still couldn’t get into it and was finding it hard to follow. Maybe that’s just me and believing that this book would be an ‘easy, light read.’ Also the main theme is politics and that really doesn’t interest me. The other themes are family, friendship, relationships, death and bullying. (Maybe there some more later on in the book.) There are also lots of characters, but I’ll get on to them in a minute.

So, first the plot, well there’s not really a plot, it’s more a story. The narrative is written in third person and switches points of view so many times; it makes you feel dizzy and lost. There’s just too many characters appearing in a short space and some of the switching does seem pointless. There’s also a number of different settings in and around the village. The first is the house of Barry and his family, followed by the golf club where he suddenly drops dead. There’s no time for the reader to connect with Barry and we are left in the hands of the other characters to view his life style. This does create some mystery, but also bias stories and I was left with a lot of different views about Barry. (Maybe this will become clearer later on.) The setting then moves through different characters’ houses, a shop, a school and other places. There’s really no centre setting to this novel, unless you count Barry’s house, but we don’t spend enough time there. So for pages that follow his death, we get all the other characters telling each other about what’s happen and spreading gossip. We get to see a whole range of reactions to this news, but also to the now vacant seat on the council. For me there’s just too much happening at once and too much repetitive. The plot really doesn’t feel like an adult novel, but more like a collision of different ideas and characters. I guess it would be better if there was less characters and more concentration of creating an actual plot line at the very start.

I had a problem with the chapter layout. It’s not really divided into normal chapters, but instead uses roman numerals to show the switching to a different character, the days of the week show the passing of time and there are pages with titles on them showing more movement of characters and time. I get the idea of having a fresher look to chapters, but this just doesn’t work. Well, at least not for me. It causes there to be too many breaks in the story, which means that it does flow and the pace is mixed from fast to slow. I guess that the passing of time is important, but as of yet I’ve not discovered why. Maybe it has political connections which I’m not aware of.

As for the characters, which I’ve been touching upon, I’m not taken by any of them. There are some interesting ones almost them like; Parminder, Krystal, Colin and Simon. Most of the others just seem to fall into the stereotypes of the people you’d find in a village; the gossipy shop keeper, the nosy women, the abusive father, the trapped teenagers, the stressed head teacher. The range is really covered by the characters as if Rowling wanted to allow everyone to have a character they could connect with. But I don’t think it’s possible, because there’s far too many. I struggled with the relationships between them too and often found myself wonder who’s wife, child, dog this was. Maybe it’s just me, but I found being stuck in the middle of all these families at once was hard to handle.

The writing style is meant to be for an adult readership. It hardly comes across as this though and a long/difficult word will often pop up as if Rowling suddenly realized she needed one. This just throws the flow off the narrative though and is really not needed. For the most part the writing is simple and seems very teenage/young adult like. There is also a lot of swearing and sex references, but these do work because the age and nature of the characters. For me and I knew I wasn’t going to compare them, but this writing is far from HP. and I know some people said that was badly written, but this just doesn’t have the style and I wasn’t very taken with it.

So, is this going to be the next biggest seller? I don’t think so…it’s riding on the back of HP in some ways, because nearly all the readership for this book will have read HP and seeing Rowling’s name on the cover will get them to buy it. For me this book is too big, confusing and the theme of politics just doesn’t interest me and does seem to be the focus of the novel. I’ve problems with the chapter layout, the language used and also the characters. I’ve read books with lots of characters before, which does switch pov and there’s no problem with this, but Rowling just doesn’t pull it off and I was left feeling lost in a sea of characters. I’d like to say that in the near future I’ll pick this book up and finish it, but I doubt it. I’ve so many other interesting novels to get through, that it’ll take me awhile, before I decided to give it another go and see if it does improve.

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