I finally finished this book last night but thought I would think on it before posting my review/thoughts. There are plenty of reviews out there on places like GoodReads and Tumblr that seem to articulate the things that I would like to say, but am unable to express in such eloquent ways, and people have this way of analysing and looking at books that I wish I could even have a bit of so that these reviews were more coherent. But alas, that is not the case, so you’ll have to put up with the ramblings of my mind as I try to get my thoughts onto paper, as it were.
Firstly, as I am sure a lot of people did, I bought this book because its author is JKR undeniably one of the most famous authors in the whole world, and I have, and continue to, love Harry Potter. I wanted to read it because I wanted to see how JKR’s writing style would differ from Harry Potter, and to see what sort of world she would create. I didn’t expect it to be anything like Harry Potter, and I don’t think it’s fair to draw comparisons between the two as they are, and would always have been, two separate entities.
This isn’t the sort of book I would browse and pick up in the book shop. In fact, it’s probably not the sort of book I would browse on GoodReads. My taste for books directed towards the adult market stem from influences such as Stephen King and James Herbert. Otherwise, my tastes, it would appear, are in the realms of young adult fiction, Harry Potter, Steampunk, alternative histories and dystopian futures – not realms for a story about the death of a local councillor and how it affects a small village in rural England.
That being said I wanted to give this a chance – perhaps to show that my tastes are as eclectic as my music tastes – to show that I could read outside of my comfort zone. Compared to my recent reading rates this book took me a great deal of time to read [I was also involved with a long knitting project as well which needed more of my time].
So in reading this book I went into the beginning with an open mind and with being pushed outside my normal remit. I would really love to be able to type away and say that that I fell in love with “The Casual Vacancy” and the characters within but really, I just can’t type that. If anything, I am ambivalent to the whole book.
I have several issues with the book that I would like to take the time to share with you all, and perhaps go into greater detail on in a moment. Firstly, I thought that there were simply too many characters, and I found it hard to keep track of who’s who at times. Secondly, even though this book was aimed at a much older audience, I felt that it tried too hard to be “adult”. Thirdly, there were too many stereotypes and not enough to get rid of the stereotypes, some of which I found difficult to read. Lastly, I hate reading accents and I really don’t think JKR and write accents well.
The blurb mentions the catalyst for the whole plot – the death of Councillor Barry Fairbrother, and the effects it has on the town of Pagford. We start with his funeral and are gradually introduced to the characters to which the book is to revolve, and the election to which the death of Barry sparks. It’s a particularly contentious election as there is a war in Pagford relating to the district councils use of Pagford land for social housing, and how this seems to have brought the whole town down a notch.
I have to say I really, really, hated this part of the story. The Fields, the social housing where Yarvil District council has used land to house those in need has a bad reputation [which would be fine if it was done well] but JKR has steeped not only the fictional town of Pagford’s “Fields” in the stereotype of what it means to live in social housing, she completely upholds this notion to the end. That is anyone that lives in social housing is likely to either be a junky, alcoholic, paedophile, jobless and paid for by the state – when really this just isn’t true. This has irked me throughout the whole book because living in social housing does not mean that you are anyone of these people. JKR doesn’t show a single character that lives in the fields to be exempt from this stereotype [excluding Barry himself, which doesn’t really count because he’s dead]. I live in a town that could have parallels drawn with Pagford, that divide which comes down to the fact of those who own their homes and those that don’t. The people who own their homes think that they are that much better, snobbier, than those that don’t when really we’re all just the same. We all have bills to pay – so that fact that lots of people will have read this book and have read this opinion fictional or not, of social housing really irked me throughout the whole book.
There were too many characters to keep up with – both from Pagford and the Fields that I wasn’t really interested in any of them, and didn’t really form a bond with any of them either. There wasn’t one character above the rest, excluding perhaps “Jolly” [because I can’t spell her actual name without reference], that I really cared about. Crumbling marriages [Miles and Samantha], men without backbones [Gavin], women who just tried too hard to keep the affections of a man [Kay], pretentious snobs [Shirley and Howard], Terri who was too weak to say no to anyone, Krystal, who’s ending was pretty tragic but failed to really move me. Do you see my point? I haven’t even managed to list all the characters, all of these had some involvement with moving the plot on, with just 503 pages it was just too much to really cram into a book this size.
In regards to the book trying to be too “adult” there was way too many references to sex, the need for sex, the thoughts of it pornography etc. that I think it was too much. It’s like JKR was saying “look at me, something not aimed at children, reader beware”. I didn’t enjoy this element of the book – it’s not that I have a problem with reading about sex per ce [Game of Thrones, much?] but I didn’t think there needed to be quite so much with this. The rape scene also was pretty unnecessary, and even though people like to promote that rape shouldn’t be used to further a plot, that plot device seems to be relatively overlooked in this book. There are other ways to get that particular character out of her specific set of circumstances, which also leads me to the whole notion of the stereotypes. Nothing comparatively as bad happens to any of the other characters, and if it did, it would have been dealt with in a whole different light.
I don’t know, perhaps it’s just me. There are a lot of good reviews out there for this book, for JKRs representation of the world through Pagford – but I think she, like many people – has simply fallen into the stereotypical world that it blasted from the news screens and scandalous headlines down the route of Daily Mail and Daily Express [both papers make me incredibly angry, and I have to sell them each and every day].
I’ll leave it there – let me know what you think if you’ve read this book, I’d really like to know.