The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
To begin with I found the book slow, with the introduction of a wide cast of characters, most of whom were drawn as stereotypes – the smug middle-class couples, the council estate drug addict, the single-mother grasping at an inadequate relationship, and a whole array of teenagers who bitterly hate their parents. As the book developed, the teenagers filled out more than the adults – Stuart Wall (Fats) was an interesting study, whereas Samantha Mollison remained a caricature: vain, shallow and spiteful. The problem was that there wasn’t a single character that I found remotely likeable, so it was difficult to care what happened to them all.
In terms of action, very little does happen in the book. There is a vacancy on the Parish Council and the process of selecting a replacement stirs up rivalry, hatred and betrayal. Around this we see the dysfunctional lives of those involved. For me it was a challenge to read simply because the behaviour described was so unremittingly vile and occasionally depraved, and the language often ugly. I couldn’t help feeling that someone, somewhere, would have shown an ounce of compassion or even commonsense – but not in Pagford.
I did keep reading to the end, and was strongly drawn into the book at times, but I did not feel that my efforts were fairly rewarded. So much unpleasantness needed to be offset by something positive – either humour (I saw none), or a message of hope, or a spark of love shining in the murky dark I was pulled into.
One thought that struck me as I read was that the book could be converted into excellent television. Caricatures can work well on screen, and some of the dialogue which just seemed mean spirited in print could be rendered humorous if well delivered by the right actor. I have an inkling that my curiosity to see the book televised may well be satisfied in the not too distant future.
This is a book for people who prefer character studies to storyline and don’t mind seeing the sordid side of life examined in great detail. Oh – and no promises of a happy ending.
P.S. I would give the book 3 stars.
I would love to hear the views of other people who have read the book.