The Casual Vacancy

This isn’t one of those the-day-after reviews. I feel The Casual Vacancy required more time to read and digest than a Harry Potter style overnight read. The Casual Vacancy is no Harry Potter, and that’s just as well.

I have to admit that I don’t generally read, or even like, (adult) novels featuring the ghastly lives of sad and bitter people, with the odd bit of romance (hardly any, actually) thrown in. But The Casual Vacancy made for interesting reading, and J K Rowling may be no Dickens, but she does have a way with looking at our society. The Emperor’s New Clothes, kind of thing.

Neither the advance blurb, nor the reviews I glanced at beforehand described adequately what this book is about. I wonder if reviewers read it in too much of a hurry? In which case the publishers were wrong to embargo the novel quite so protectively.

Be that as it may. I quite liked TCV in the end. Pagford is a village seemingly full of unpleasant people, living too close to each other while hating their neighbours, or suspecting them of whatever they prefer to suspect people of. The Fields is where the undesirable and poor live. Barry Fairbrother came from the Fields, and made it to live in Pagford.

And that’s where he dies, on page four. He wanted the best for the Fields, but no one else seems to.

You want to believe that by the end of the novel some poor soul will have a better and happier life through some marvellous development or other. This might count as a ‘Dumbledore is dead’ kind of spoiler, but what you’d expect to happen in real life happens.

I think we – occasionally – need books that tell it as it is, with no fairy tale ending. I trust the kind of lifestyle J K has portrayed in both the Fields and in Pagford is worse than real life, but I’m not hopeful. I know I am pretty much like several of the women in TCV, and not in a flattering way, either. I went to school with teenagers like the Pagford/Fields ones.

There are four likeable characters in the book, which isn’t bad going for this neighbourhood.

It’d be great if something changed because people have read TCV. I don’t believe it will, but I’d like it to.

(The many brackets drove me bananas, but that might be a result of editing. Too many and too long. And I doubt that dyslexia prevents you from becoming bilingual.)


6 responses to “The Casual Vacancy

  1. I haven’t read The Casual Vacancy and I probably won’t get around to it, but that’s not because I’m against it. But I was struck while reading your post about the similarity in tone this novel seems to have to an early one by Hilary Mantel, the now two time Booker prize winner. The most recent issue of the New Yorker has a profile of her and, after going deep into the lives and minds of the French Revolution (and not being able to sell the book) she decided to write a completely different novel and it sounded a lot like this one. I think both women had the capacity to write something on a grand scale, either imaginative or historical, but when they need to switch gears and focus on our modern life, they find it a bit depressing. I don’t think Rowling needs to return to Harry Potter, but if Mantel is our guide, she may just be using this book as a transition book while she replenishes her larger imaginative life.

  2. Thanks, Seana. That was really interesting.
    What has surprised me in the days since I finished TCV, is that I keep expecting to go back to reading it, when I take a break to read. It’s as if I don’t know I finished it. Maybe I didn’t. Usually I can remember I’ve started on another book, even when it’s hard to jump from one book to a new one.

  3. That’s an unusual reaction. I’d like to try it, but this is the autumn of books by big name authors, and I don’t really know if I could make the time for it.

  4. I have had to remind myself several times that I’m not still reading TCV. It could just be dementia.

  5. Carol Robinson

    Well I opted in with all the hype and purchased on release day and I am not a “Potter” fan. Was it worth it? Most definately YES! I laughed, I cried. JK is absolutely brilliant with her characters. Did it change my perspective on society? Yes, it did and for the better. JK most certainly told it as it is which I did feel was a very sad indictment of our time.

  6. Good for you, Carol! Yes, we need people to tell us where we are going wrong.

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