The Casual Vacancy – Wrapping Up

So now that we have finished The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling, it’s time to discuss and analyse a bit more, and address some of the criticisms that have been given to it. So feel free to add all your thoughts, queries, ideas, speculation to this page, without any fear of spoilers. So if you haven’t read The Casual Vacancy, you might not want to venture into the rest of this post or the comments. Also tomorrow I want to go through each of the ‘part’ excerpts to figure out what they mean and why they were included.

So what did I think of The Casual Vacancy? I loved it! I said that yesterday and I stand by it. I know there have been mixed reviews from critics and ‘fans’ alike. Some, like me, loved it, others detested it. Some people couldn’t get past the fact that this was JK Rowling’s first ADULT book. We had only seen her write for ‘children’ through Harry Potter, and let me remind you that that was only one story. So we hadn’t really seen what JK was capable of, and still I think she has much left up her sleeve. So the fact that this was an adult book, which was much publicised, has thrown people. Some people have felt slightly ‘betrayed’ that JK decided to write about such a dark aspect of life. She included sex, drugs, alcohol, incest, domestic abuse, teenage sex, porn, suicide, self harm, swear words and death. Pretty much the whole cohort of ‘adult themes’. The inclusion of all these things, has made her come under fire from some corners. Some people think that she didn’t need to include it, and that she was almost trying to just be as vulgar as possible just to show she wasn’t defined by Harry Potter. Now of course, not everyone likes to read about sex, drugs, suicide or death, and they can be very off putting for some people. Same with coarse language, some people hate it so much they complain about reading it. Now I understand, I hate hearing people swear, and I don’t myself (well, maybe when nobody is around and something has ticked me off I might). There are much better words in the English language to use. And really if you use them to try and degrade someone, they are the most used, pathetic words. When they get so overused they lose their impact, which is why I’d prefer to keep them ‘saved’ up for a ‘special’ occasion.

But what I don’t get is the accusation that JK is just using these themes and words ‘willy nilly’ just because she can since it is an adult book. I think people forget that this is a real world book, and some people might be mistaken to think that these things don’t happen in the real world. People die, people use drugs, teens have sex, teens get pregnant, people harm themselves, people swear, children get beat up at home. All of these things HAPPEN. When was the last time you were out in public and didn’t happen to hear someone swear? I’d guess it was a while ago. I am in no way condoning these things, but I want to remind people that these things happen. This is a book that deals with the gritty underworld of life. Now it is perfectly fine to shy away from these real life problems, after all, this is a book, and most people want to be entertained, so reading about these things, doesn’t do it for them, but they have to accept that JK didn’t just thrown them in just to show she is an adult, she put them in there to address and ‘expose’ these things. I genuinely understand that people can be offended by this content, and won’t want to read it, but it doesn’t immediately made it a bad book.

Now another criticism is that we jump around from person to person too much, and that people can’t connect with characters. I have to agree, to a point, but not much. There are a lot of characters, there are basically 18 characters, who at one point or another we get their perspective. Now that is a lot of characters to keep track of, not to mention all the other people involved in some way or another. Plus, remembering who is with who, who hates who, why this person thinks this way, where this person is related to everyone else. I have to admit, it can be hard to keep track of it all. Especially if you just power your way through the book, not taking the time to notice and remember specific things. Clearly not everyone can have a level to detail in reading a book, and clearly we shouldn’t be expected to struggle through a book trying to recall who this character is and how he is related to the story. We read for fun and enjoyment. And not remembering characters isn’t enjoyable, and just leaves us confused. So I agree, this is a challenge, and unfortunately it is too big a hurdle for some people to get past. However, once again, it doesn’t make it a bad book. Sometimes the best books are the ones that you need to think about, but once again, people do enjoy reading because it can be passive. I didn’t find it too challenging to keep on top of things, maybe blogging helps, but I do urge people to stick with it.

As for the jumping around, as I said it can make it difficult. But it makes for interesting reading. We get so many perspectives, and get into the lives of nearly all the characters. It is very unusual, I don’t know of any other book that does it, especially one that changes midway through ‘chapters’ sometimes multiple times. I like unusual, others don’t. I can’t really defend The Casual Vacancy for being labelled as unusual, because it is. It is something that hasn’t been written before, and I like it. But I disagree with people who claim that they don’t connect with any of the characters. I understand that we don’t have long passages with one character to have a deep connection with from the get go, but with so many characters there are bound to be people you hate, like and can connect with. I’m sure we’ve all see a Shirley, or a Howard, or a Krystal, so we can relate to their lives. And many of us can see a little, or a lot, of ourselves in one or many of these characters. We get a lot of backstory, not to the level of detail as Harry Potter, but I think a few critics have forgotten that that was a few thousand pages, and spread over several novels, this is a stand alone novel. So of course we can’t get every story, but we get a lot. I, once I had read everything, could understand all of the characters. For example, I didn’t understand Colin for a long time. Then the reveal about not only his condition, but also his relationship with Fats, changed my opinion. And that’s what I want to happen. I don’t want to understand the characters and their motives from the outset, I want to try to figure out why are they doing that, and what happened to them before we met them. And then, later on, I want to be told the story, and we were. The stories that JK moulded were fantastic, and I don’t see a reason why people couldn’t connect with at least one character. I was upset by Robbie and Krystals’ deaths, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some people say they weren’t because they didn’t connect (not because I understand, just because with such criticism, some people obviously didn’t care about the characters, and wouldn’t be upset when they died). Maybe my prolong acquaintance with each of the characters helped, but I’m sure if I read this ‘normally’ I would get the same experience.

What I would like to complain about, is that it was promoted as a political novel, but it wasn’t really. Politics was one theme, but really it wasn’t the major theme. Krystal out of all the characters, was the one who the story was about. It was about her challenges. Okay, it was about Barry’s death, and how it impacted the entire town, but Krystal was a major character. I guess they needed ‘something’ to market this book as, and a political one was as good as any.

I don’t have too much more to say about The Casual Vacancy. I liked it, the characters were ‘relatable’, the story was riveting, it was different. As for whether I would buy the book if JK didn’t write it, it is a really good question. I want to say I would. But I don’t know if I would have ever found the book. Unfortunately there are probably now thousands of times more books than I could read in an entire lifetime that was solely devoted to reading, which means it is hard to find enough time to read all the books I want. It is a real dilemma, because I wonder how many books are waiting out there, that are just fantastic and I would love dearly. And they could be hidden treasures, that unfortunately aren’t on my radar. It is hard to find books you love when there are billions of them. But at the same time, reading only the books you know are good and have been recommended to you and are world wide successes, isn’t fantastic, because you miss out on all the other stories. Sure they might not be perfect, but sometimes you have to read something you wouldn’t normally. I’m getting sidetracked, but I just think that there are so many books out there, it is hard to find the ones you will like and the ones that are fantastic. So if The Casual Vacancy was written by someone else, and I happened to find it, I don’t know if I would buy it. I probably would borrow it from the library. Books aren’t cheap, and the library is the best option. I love to support authors, but I can’t buy every book I want to read (though I might want to).

But seriously, find a copy and read The Casual Vacancy. And stick with it. It is worth whatever ‘effort’ it takes. Of course not everyone will like it, but sometimes it is good to read something you don’t like, as long as you have some reasoning behind why you don’t like it (well you don’t have to, it is just good to figure out just what to avoid in the future). I think I’ve said enough, so I’ll see you tomorrow, where we’ll discuss those excerpts from the Local Council Administration, and maybe some other stuff.

Please leave your thoughts/comments/queries below in the comments I loved to hear from you and see what you thought!