Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Casual Vacancy, J. K. Rowling

Publishers: Little, Brown

Pages: 503

Main Characters:

Barry, Krystal, Fats, Andrew, Samantha

The Casual Vacancy is the first adult novel from famed children’s author J. K. Rowling. The novel tells the tale of (though I’m sure most of you will know because it’s been in the media so often!) a small fictional town in the West Country of England called Pagford. Pagford is the personification of the English middle class. It has idyllic cobbled streets, one of the oldest pubs in Britain and successful boutiques and cafes that all make Pagford a wonderful place to live. As well as it been a beautiful place to live, the thing that makes the people of Pagford most proud to live there is the fact that the town is run by Pagfordians and not by civil servants and councillors from the neighbouring city of Yarvil.

However, the town is not as united as it seems. The council that runs Pagford is divided by the issue of The Fields. The Fields is a local council estate that for the last sixty years has been run and maintained by Pagford. The traditionalists of the town, headed by the First Citizen Howard Mollison, believe that the responsibility of The Fields should be handed to Yarvil. Howard believes this because many of the incentives introduced to The Fields; like bus stops and new pathways have been destroyed by the ‘yobs’ that live there! Also, The Fields is closer to Yarvil and should therefore be their responsibility!

On the other side of this argument is Barry Fairbrother, a man who grew up in The Fields but who managed to get out and become one of the most influential men in Pagford. Barry strongly believes that the children of The Fields should be given the benefit of Pagford’s better schools and facilities. He gives Krystal Weedon, a local problem child whose mother is a heroin addict as an example, as Krystal has benefitted from Pagford’s facilities and become a good rower! Barry feels confident that with the evidence of Krystal Weedon he can manage to persuade the rest of the councillors to vote in favour of keeping The Fields as part of Pagford. That is until Barry’s sudden and unexpected death!

The death of Barry throws Pagford into turmoil as both camps of the council try to fill his shoes with one of their own supporters. However, in this rush to secure power, secrets of the candidates and many of the local councillors are revealed by The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother (not a real ghost!). The secrets threaten to destroy each camp’s hope of gaining power and rip up the lives of many of the characters involved in the novel! With the final review of The Fields coming up shortly, both camps must push forward their arguments. But what is in store for the people of The Fields and Pagford, will they still be ran together or will all of Barry’s hard work be forgotten with his tragic death?

Sitting here writing this review I ask myself ‘where to begin with this book?’ There are so many issues and points I’d like to say about this book that it is hard to know where to start!

I think I’ll start with the sort of ‘controversy’ that surrounded this book. This was of course, that the novel has themes that aren’t appropriate for children (including sex, drugs and even rock n’ roll) even though it was written by the biggest selling and most famous children’s author of all time! For me, I didn’t really get why people were surprised that the novel had these themes in it for these reasons: Number one, J. K. Rowling specifically stated that the book was not for children and was aimed at an adult audience. Number two, as an author she couldn’t be expected to go on writing Harry Potter books for the rest of her life (even though I secretly wish she would!) And finally, number three, I thought that the last three or four Harry Potter books were aimed at adults instead of children and sort of suggested that her next books would not be for children. I can see where some people are coming from saying that what if their child downloads this book from the internet not knowing that it is for adults? To this, I’d say what Rowling herself said, ‘there are worse things a child could be downloading from the internet than a book’ (which I’d agree!).

Ok now on to the book itself! I had three main issues with it! The first was that at the start, it is quite hard to follow the plot because there are so many different characters and the story kept chopping and changing between them! It meant it was hard to get a firm grasp of who was who in the first few chapters. My second issue was that I really didn’t like most of the characters. Most of them (especially the traditionalists) are so petty. I know Rowling purposely made them this way but I think I liked them even less because I know there are really people like that in the world, hungry for gossip, only do things to benefit themselves etc. I think the most likeable character in the story was Barry Fairbrother and he was dead within the first ten pages! My third and final issue was that I don’t think this book would have had the hype it has had if it wasn’t written by J. K. Rowling. If it were written by ‘Joe Blogs’, critics and the media wouldn’t have given it the coverage it has had. I feel that there are other authors of this, ‘real life’ genre that have written better books. Authors like Nick Hornby and Mark Haddon would be an example of this.

Anyway, now that I’ve got the issues out of the way, let me tell you what I liked about the novel. I really loved Rowling’s writing style in the book. It was beautifully written and was as descriptive and as lovely as her writing in Harry Potter. I also really liked the ending. The book seemed to move at the same, steady pace until the last about one hundred and fifty pages. The ending was extremely thrilling and alone is worth reading the book for!

I know my likes don’t really outweigh my issues and probably make this book sound rubbish. I must say that I did enjoy this book, but I think it is only fair to give my honest opinion, and that opinion is... ‘Don’t believe all the hype’. If you've gotten to this point in the review, I’d just like to say thanks for sticking with it (I know it’s abit wordy!) Also please leave me a comment if you have read the book, tell me what you like/didn't like.

I would suggest this book to anyone who is a fan of Harry Potter, just to see what Rowling’s style of writing is like from an adult’s point of view. I would also suggest this book to fans of authors such as Nick Hornby and Mark Haddon, as they write a similar genre to this book.

For author’s official website click here.

P.S. Don’t forget to enter my Book of the Month Competition for your chance to win a FREE copy of Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. To enter, just follow the instructions on the widget below and for more information click here.

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  1. Thanks Ad! Think I'll give it a read at some point, I'm intrigued about the ending!

    1. Cheers Lisa, the ending is brilliant and a bit of a shock, I didn't see it coming!


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