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I read Rowling's other non-Potter book (the one she wrote under a pseudonym) and found it entertaining but mediocre. I expected the same reaction to this one and had therefore put off listening to it. When I did, I was totally surprised by how much I liked it. So much so that I laid in bed until well past two in the morning listening to the end (something I rarely do)--ergo the five stars even though this is not 'high' literature.
The Casual Vacancy is a story about the dark hidden lives of the inhabitants of a small country town. (Yes, not a very original theme but so very well done by Rowling.) The characters are dark, Very dark. Sometimes their meanness astounds you. In fact, they are all mean, except in varying degrees -- the only 'solid' good guy appears to be the character who dies in the first few pages of the book, leaving "the casual vacancy" in the town's council. (Had he lived, no doubt we would have found he had his secrets as well. Nobody is blameless here.)
The things that happen as a result of the characters inner flaws and demons are catastrophic, but easy to believe. In fact, Rowling makes them seem inevitable. A train without brakes going downhill.
I hope she writes more novels like this. And I hope Tom Hollander reads them. I will be sure to listen.
43 of 47 people found this review helpful
Or perhaps a better title for my review would be: You don’t have S3X near unicorns. In some ways this novel seems like a more middleweight 21st century counterpoint to Martin Amis' novel 'Money'. J.K. Rowling's new "adult" novel could just as easily been titled 'Poverty' or 'Mortality' (sorry J.K., but Hitch beat you to that title), both of which are themes that play throughout this novel.
It is weird for me, as a reader of all her juvenile fiction, to think of her in the same way with 'Casual Vacancy'. It appears it is hard for J.K. too. Rowling clearly is strongly connected to young adults, because the best parts of 'The Casual Vacancy' orbit the novel's younger characters.
In 'Casual Vacancy', Rowling falls back into writing about factions and tribalism in communities. Instead of a sorting hat, Pagford's tribes are sorted by money, by politics, by class, and in the case of those around Barry Fairweather -- by luck. It really seems like you can't write about England's poverty or class struggles without a little bit of dark humor and tragicomedy.
But, there is a real danger in writing a novel your loyal readers might not be ready for. We are creatures of habit and expectation. Go back and ask Melville how his loyal followers liked Moby Dick. I am positive that there will be scores of readers that will be upset, disenchanted, and disallusioned with Rowling's new book. But that is OK. In a greater way that is probably just what JK wants and expects (obviously on top of being read).
The British actor Tom Hollander's participation in the audiobook was a brilliant (seriously brillaint) move. The tecture of his voice is easy, lyrical and clear. He is able to subtly voice the many shades and variations of English class (Ruth and her husband Simon are good examples of his deft reading). The clarity and crispness of his voice also makes this an audiobook that you can listen to ALMOST as easily at 2x speed as 1x speed (although as an American, I didn't dare listen to it for long at 3x speed).
I'm not sure I would call it a great book (sorry folks, it isn't 'Bleak House' or 'Les Miserables'), but neither my money/credit nor my time was wasted listening to it.
296 of 341 people found this review helpful