I have been away for so long! Hopefully I can be here a bit more now that things are quietening down a little.
I have recently got married (February 2019) so I have free time now which is not taken up with all of the planning.
So on-wards with my recent read!
The Casual Vacancy is a book by J.K. Rowling. I was obviously intrigued by the book purely because of the author. After those Harry Potter books, well the book was begging to be read.
Firstly, I would like to add, this book is NOTHING to do with the Harry Potter series. It is “J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.” The book is a large 503 page novel and some of it I really enjoyed. She does a lot of intense plot and character building, however at about pages 256-300 the story starts to pick up at quite a rapid pace.
The puzzling thing for me was that I couldn’t stop reading it! “Well that’s the point!” I can hear you exclaim, and whilst I would normally agree with you, I can’t for the life of me tell you why I couldn’t stop reading it…I couldn’t say it excited me, or that it made me look forward to what was coming. It was not hanging me in suspense or making me wonder….after an hour or so thinking it over (after I had typed the things this book didn’t give me), I believe now that it intrigued me. The characters felt so real. I wanted to know where it was all going, and I found myself feeling emotions for and about the characters.
The book is about a English town called Pagford. It is one of those towns which is pretty much like something out of Midsommer Murders. The old-timey buildings, the ancient architecture, the picturesque houses and everyone knowing everyone. Rowling sets the picture up and as the book unfolds you find (or I did) that you are adding to the image of the town. Right at the beginning (in fact by precisely the 5th page) one of the Councillors collapses and dies unexpectedly. Now I thought that this book would spend most of its time going on about a fight for people who were wanting to get onto the council, however this, for me, was not actually the main factor of the book. Yes, it is happening and there significant areas of the book that is focused on the upcoming vote, however there is another angle to this book which spoke louder to me.
There are several groups of people who make up the main characters;
- The Fairbrothers – They take up very little of the plot, however it does mention the dead Councillor quite a bit (Barry Fairbrother). A pleasant family who have to deal with the passing of their husband/father.
- The Mollisons – Two sets of families. Miles and Samantha Mollison. Samantha is falling out of love with her husband, their relationship is stale and Samantha dreams of romance and doing things they were not able to do due to her being pregnant so young. Miles on the other hand is oblivious to his wife’s feelings and focuses on his run for the Councillor position. Then there is Miles’ mother and father, Howard and Shirley Mollison. Howard is already on the Council and he and his wife seem to be at the centre of Pagford’s community. Howard owns a Deli with a female business partner (no guesses what they get up to!) and at some point in the book becomes repulsive when it mentions his dirty thoughts about two of the teenage girls who end up working in his shop and the pervy uniforms that he buys them. Shirley is a snooty know-it-all who dislikes Sam greatly and adores her “mummy’s boy” son.
- The Prices – Simon and Ruth Price and their two sons Andrew and Paul. Simon is a deeply unpleasant man whom I felt nothing but hatred for. Ruth is a battered housewife, that I surprisingly felt both sorry for and angry with. Andrew is an angry 16year old (and who wouldn’t be with a crappy-ass father) who has cigarettes and sex on the brain and Peter is younger, quiet and very scared of his father. Simon also runs for the vacant Councillor position.
- The Walls – Colin (aka Cubby) and Tess Wall both work in the Local Highschool. Tess is the Head of Guidance and Colin is the Deputy Headmaster who is detested by his son Stuart (aka Fats) and has a severe anxiety disorder, which later on in the book has a dark side, “He was recalling thoughts that were as vivid as memories, as sensory impressions, violent, vile ideas: a hand seizing and squeezing as he passed through densely packed young bodies; a cry of pain, a child’s face contorted”, “He imagined other ways to have inappropriate contact with them: a swiftly repositioned elbow brushing against a breast; a side-step to ensure bodily contact; a leg accidentally entangled, so that the child’s groin made contact with his flesh.” Dark dark shit. His wife Tess knows about his anxiety and his thoughts and is a buffer between Colin and Fats as their relationship is volatile.
- Gavin Hughes & Kay Bawden – Kay is a social worker who moved from London to be with her boyfriend. She is oblivious to his waning affections and his clear unhappiness, where as her teenage daughter Gaia is not so blind. Gavin by all intents and purposes seems to be a bit of a wimp, either that or he is stuck in a rut. He doesn’t want to be with Kay and was gutted when she moved herself from London to Pagford, however he never says this and he tries to get out of seeing her instead of telling her how he feels. Gaia is unhappy that she has been forced to move away from all of her friends in London. She is an attractive teenager who becomes friends with an unpopular girl at school, I really liked her.
Bare with me….I am nearly there…
- The Weedons – These are one of the strongest families, in the sense that they have one of the biggest impacts to me in the plot. Krystal is an angry, aggressive and volatile teenage girl who attends the school in Pagford but is actually from a place called The Fields. This place is basically a huge council estate. It is basically a shit hole where everyone is unemployed, impoverished and uneducated. I found myself building a fondness and attachment to her and her little brother. Krystal’s mother is a druggie and a prostitute. She has failed her rehab twice and is given one last chance before her two children are taken away. Robbie is Krystal’s 3 year old brother. He is always shown as a grubby child who is developmentally challenged and has seen things no child should ever see, “There had been trouble at nursery when he’d mimicked doing it doggy-style on another child.” He was the character I felt the worst for and I was legitimately on the verge of tears at one point in the book.
- The Jawandas – Parminder and Vikram and their daughter (not the only one but the only one in the book) Sukhvinder. Vikram is a handsome surgeon who actually does not factor much into the book, his wife Parminder is the local GP and is on the Pagford Council. Sukhvinder is another vulnerable teenager who self-harms because of a mixture of bullying and not meeting her parents high standards.
I may have missed some people out of this, but these are the important ones. The book spends a lot of time showing the ins and outs of the relationships, the ways that everyone is linked with each other and the dark secrets that a fair few people are hiding.
The biggest part of the book for me was Krystal and Robbie Weedon. At first you see this horrible teenage girl with no love or respect for anyone, foul mouthed and lacking respect, however, when you read her upbringing and what she has to contend with, you then understand why she is the way she is. You also see another side to her, the side that loves her little brother and is terrified of losing him. The side that is actually more adult than her mother and that knows the difference between right and wrong. The side that is struggling to solely care for her brother with what little she has.
**HUGE MASSIVE UNFORGETTABLE SPOILER ALERT**
-There is no turning back after this-
Robbie dies. Krystal dies. 😦 Gutted! Basically Krystal is raped. She has no one to go to and her mother doesn’t believe her. She then finds the same man in her mother’s house, lying in bed and her little brother naked in the same room. She runs away with him, wondering what he has done to her brother (her brother appears to be unfazed, so make of that what you will). Before she runs away with Robbie and after she has been raped she comes to the decision that she needs Fats (who she has been seeing because he wants an easy “shag”) to get her pregnant so that the council will give her her own house and then her and Robbie will be out from under their mother and the danger she poses to them. This basically leads to her having sex with Fats in some bushes by the river and she leaves her little brother sitting on the bench next to the road whilst they do this. He gets fed up and comes down to find Krystal who shouts at him to get back on the bench, but Robbie is bored, he walks around a little and is ignored by two of the other characters in the books. He then tries to find Krystal and can’t and start shouting and screaming for her. Krystal by this point has come back to the bench and is panicking because Robbie has gone. In the end up Robbie falls into the river and drowns (I am leaving out a lot of detail so that the book isn’t ruined too much). Krystal is so broken up about it that – to cut a long story short – she barricades herself into her mother’s house with the police banging on the door outside and uses her mum’s drugs to overdose.
I know…..It’s so fucking sad. Even more so when you have invested in the characters and felt a love and sympathy for them. It is deliciously poetic however that everyone who Krystal has respected and loved, and who has cared for her, dies. In the end she ends up being reunited with those people unable to be separated from them again. I found that comforting and I don’t even believe in going to heaven when you die!!!
Krystal and Robbie’s story shows us the divide between the lower class and even just the working class. It shows how people are judged so quickly on how they are perceived without trying to know or understand what has made them this way. Sadly it is so true in the real world and I think that this book brought it home.
J.K. Rowling has done a fabulous job of giving the characters life and of making the reader feel for them.
I do think that so much more could have been done with this book but I am both happy and sad that this book did not have a happy ending for all. There are mixtures of endings for each group of people.
If you are looking for a thriller or an action book, then this is not the one for you. But if you are looking for a book that pulls you in, then this is something you need to read!