Strengths: The characters are interwoven well and there are some page turning moments.
Weaknesses: It’s not happy, focusing on the many problems of the characters and those page turning moments are far between.
Why I read it: It’s J K Rowling’s first adult book and I Ioved Harry Potter.
Publisher: Little, Brown
Setting: Pagford and Yarvil, England
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Everyone must have heard by now that J K Rowling, of Harry Potter fame has released her first book for adults. It’s big and chunky. It’s about local politics. And – oh my goodness – it has SEX and SWEAR WORDS! Honestly people, it’s an adult novel. Not Fifty Shades of Grey (why do I keep referring to that book?) kind of adult, but a proper, grown-up book. Sometimes grown-ups swear. Sometimes they have sex (otherwise how do you get little Harry Potters). We need to get over that point now.
The problem is, that after the cursing and the occasional sex scene, there’s quite a lot of not very exciting stuff. The Casual Vacancy has many, many characters. Essentially it’s divided up into The Adults vs. The Teenagers. On the teenage side, we have Andrew (Arf), Stuart (Fats), Krystal, Sukhwinder and Gaia. The adult side is even more numerous, let me try to remember:
- Barry Fairbrother, who dies on the second page. His widow, Mary, plays a relatively minor role, as do the Fairbrother children.
- Simon and Ruth Price are Arf’s parents. Simon is not a nice man, and enjoys nothing more than verbal and even physical abuse of his wife and children. Ruth’s claim to fame was the she was working at the hospital when Barry died.
- Fats’ mum, Tessa, is a school counsellor. His dad, Colin, is the deputy principal at Fats’ high school. Colin is the nervous type, but is determined to follow in the great Barry’s footsteps.
- Terri is Krystal’s mum – sometime junkie, sometime prostitute. She lives in the Fields housing estate, which the majority of Pagford residents look down on. Robbie is Krystal’s little brother.
- Sukhwinder’s parents are both doctors and are not entirely accepted by the town’s residents.
- Kaye is Gaia’s mum, a social worker who moved to Pagford to continue her relationship with Gavin, work colleague to Miles Mollison, who is the son of Howard, deli owner and parish stalwart. His wife is Shirley, who prides herself on the council’s website, while Howard’s business partner is Maureen, a widow who…
Brain scrambled yet? There are an awful lot of characters in this book (and a lot of awful characters too). It takes a darn long time to work out who is related to whom and by what thread. It would have been useful to have a summary of characters to refer to. I’m sure Hogwarts wasn’t this complex!
The plot is long and convoluted, as it takes a long, long time to establish the characters, the town of Pagford and the biases of the opposing factions of the residents. I’ll try to break it down for you: adults being stupid, kids decide to get revenge, big event happens, people like each other more. There. That’s 503 pages you didn’t have to read. I’m not saying that this is a bad novel – in fact, it’s very clever. The intricacies of the character relationships are well done. The prose is great. The setting is described well. It just is very boring.
There, I’ve said it. Boring. This novel is boring!
The content of the novel is pretty depressing – you name an issue, it’s there (sex, drugs, incest, abuse, gluttony, sloth, self-harm, suicide, affairs, theft etc.). It’s not something you read to relax after work. Reading page after page of miserable lives (no matter how true it is) gets me down. I think this book would have been much more powerful if it was severely trimmed down. It’s padded out so much with other Issues that when you finally get to the election, you really don’t care. It seems Rowling doesn’t either, because it doesn’t get much of a mention. It’s enough already!
Will I read another Rowling book? Probably. If I found the storyline more interesting and the volume slimmer, she would be on to another winner.