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|The Casual Vacancy|
First edition worldwide cover
|Author||J. K. Rowling|
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company|
|Publication date||27 September 2012|
|The Casual Vacancy|
First edition worldwide cover
|Author||J. K. Rowling|
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company|
|Publication date||27 September 2012|
The Casual Vacancy is a 2012 novel written by British writer J. K. Rowling. The book was published worldwide by the Little, Brown Book Group on 27 September 2012. A paperback edition was released on 23 July 2013. It was Rowling's first publication since the Harry Potter series, her first apart from that series, and her first novel for adult readership.
The novel is set in a suburban West Country town called Pagford and begins with the death of beloved Parish Councillor Barry Fairbrother. Subsequently, a seat on the council is vacant and a conflict ensues before the election for his successor takes place. Factions develop, particularly concerning whether to dissociate with a local council estate, "the Fields", with which Barry supported an alliance. However, those running for a place soon find their darkest secrets revealed on the Parish Council online forum, ruining their campaign and leaving the election in turmoil.
Major themes in the novel are class, politics, and social issues such as drugs, prostitution and rape. The novel was the fastest-selling in the United Kingdom in three years and had the second best-selling opening week for an adult novel there since Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It became the 15th best-selling book of 2012 during its first week of release. Within the first three weeks the book's total sales have topped one million copies in English in all formats across all territories, including the US and the UK The book also set a Goodreads record for the all-time biggest "started reading" day, later winning the Best Fiction category in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012.
The book is dedicated to Rowling's husband, Dr. Neil Murray. This was the third time Murray has received a dedication from his wife, after he shared a dedication in the fifth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and the seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
The book is split into seven parts, and features varying narratives. Each section is headed by a definition from Charles Arnold-Baker's book Local Council Administration.
The novel is split into seven parts, the first depicting the aftermath of the death of local Pagford Parish Councillor, Barry Fairbrother, who suffers a burst aneurysm in the car park of a local golf course. The inhabitants of the town share the news with their friends and relatives and chaos ensues. The problem arises in deciding whether local council estate "The Fields" (which includes methadone rehabilitation clinic, Bellchapel) should remain as part of Pagford, or instead join local city Yarvil.
After the election date is announced, the children of some of the councillors and election candidates decide to make damaging, yet often accurate, posts on the Parish Council online forum. Andrew, son of Simon Price, is the first person to do so, operating under the name "The_Ghost_Of_Barry_Fairbrother" and informing everyone that his father had bought a stolen computer. Sukhvinder (who, like Andrew, learns about hacking in ICT class) follows, posting that her mother, Dr. Parminder Jawanda, was in love with Barry. Thirdly, Fats Wall posts, claiming his adoptive father Cubby (a Deputy Headteacher) suffers from obsessive fear of having molested a child without any memory of the fact. Finally, in a desperate attempt to relieve the guilt weighing on him for costing his father his job, Andrew confides in Simon and posts that Council leader, Howard Mollison, is having an affair with his business partner Maureen. Howard's son, Miles Mollison, is the winning candidate, much to the displeasure of his wife, Samantha, who confesses she no longer loves him, only to eventually reconcile.
Another focus of the novel is the traumatic life of Krystal Weedon. 16-year-old Krystal lives in The Fields with her mother Terri who is a prostitute and heroin addict and 3-year-old brother Robbie. Social worker Kay is determined for Terri to stop her drug use and take responsibility for the care of Robbie, however, Terri relapses and her drug dealer Obbo rapes Krystal. Spurred on to start a family elsewhere, Krystal has unprotected sex with Fats in an attempt to become pregnant. It is during one of these instances that Robbie runs away from the pair in a park, eventually falling and drowning in a river, despite Sukhvinder's attempts to save him. Krystal is so distraught she commits suicide by taking a heroin overdose, the novel culminating with the siblings' funeral.
(The Telegraph published a guide to all 34 characters.)
Rowling first had the idea on an aeroplane to the United States, whilst on tour for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Referring to original conception of the Harry Potter series on a train from Manchester to London, Rowling said "Obviously I need to be in some form of vehicle to have a decent idea, this time I was on a plane. And I thought: local election! And I just knew. I had that totally physical response you get to an idea that you know will work. It's a rush of adrenaline, it's chemical. I had it with Harry Potter and I had it with this. So that's how I know."
Rowling's movement from children's literature to adult literature arose from being "ready to change genre". Referring to the Harry Potter series Rowling commented, "The thing about fantasy—there are certain things you just don't do in fantasy. You don't have sex near unicorns. It's an ironclad rule. It's tacky." Critics questioned whether younger Harry Potter fans might be drawn into wanting to read the book, Rowling responded saying, "There is no part of me that feels that I represented myself as your children's babysitter or their teacher. I was always, I think, completely honest. I'm a writer, and I will write what I want to write."
Rowling rejected her publisher's claims that the book was a "black comedy", saying in an interview with The New Yorker, "It's been billed, slightly, as a black comedy, but to me it's more of a comic tragedy." If the novel had precedents, "it would be sort of nineteenth-century: the anatomy and the analysis of a very small and closed society."
For two years, the working title of the novel was Responsible, until Rowling picked up Charles Arnold-Baker's work on local government, Local Council Administration, whilst looking something up and came across the term "casual vacancy." The New Yorker questioned Rowling's original choice of title, and she remarked "This is a book about responsibility. In the minor sense—how responsible we are for our own personal happiness, and where we find ourselves in life—but in the macro sense also, of course: how responsible we are for the poor, the disadvantaged, other people’s misery."
Suhkvinder Jawanda is often berated by her mother, Parminder, and will resort to self-harm. Andrew Price, along with his brother Paul, suffer child abuse from their father Simon Price during the novel. The New Yorker questioned Rowling whether this represented her difficult childhood and relationship with her father, Rowling replied "Andrew's romantic idea that he'll go and live among the graffiti and broken windows of London—that was me. I thought, I have to get away from this place. So all of my energies went into that.", although she added, "I did not have an easy relationship with my father, but no one in 'The Casual Vacancy' is a portrait of any living person."
One of the novel's major themes is politics. The Guardian referred to The Casual Vacancy as a "parable of national politics", with Rowling saying, "I'm interested in that drive, that rush to judgment, that is so prevalent in our society, We all know that pleasurable rush that comes from condemning, and in the short term it's quite a satisfying thing to do, isn't it?" Rowling was also critical of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition that had led since the general election in 2010 saying, "There has been a horribly familiar change of atmosphere [since the 2010 election], it feels to me a lot like it did in the early 90s, where there's been a bit of redistribution of benefits and suddenly lone-parent families are that little bit worse off. But it's not a 'little bit' when you're in that situation. Even a tenner a week can make such a vast, vast difference. So, yeah, it does feel familiar. Though I started writing this five years ago when we didn't have a coalition government, so it's become maybe more relevant as I've written." Rowling went on to say that Britain held a "phenomenally snobby society", and described the middle class as "pretentious" and "funny".
Rowling has commented on her economic situation before the success of Harry Potter as being "poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless" and said that this was why she was drawn to writing about poverty.
How many of us are able to expand our minds beyond our own personal experience? So many people, certainly people who sit around the cabinet table, say, 'Well, it worked for me' or, 'This is how my father managed it' – these trite catchphrases – and the idea that other people might have had such a different life experience that their choices and beliefs and behaviours would be completely different from your own seems to escape a lot of otherwise intelligent people. The poor are discussed as this homogeneous mash, like porridge. The idea that they might be individuals, and be where they are for very different, diverse reasons, again seems to escape some people.
– J. K. Rowling, The Guardian, "The worst that can happen is everyone says, That's shockingly bad", 2012.
Rowling was interviewed in The Guardian concerning the response The Casual Vacancy would receive. She said "I just needed to write this book. I like it a lot, I'm proud of it, and that counts for me." Referring to her initial idea of publishing under a pseudonym she commented, "I think it's braver to do it like this. And, to an extent, you know what? The worst that can happen is that everyone says, 'Well, that was dreadful, she should have stuck to writing for kids' and I can take that. So, yeah, I'll put it out there, and if everyone says, 'Well, that's shockingly bad—back to wizards with you', then obviously I won't be throwing a party. But I will live. I will live."
Lev Grossman for Time wrote in a positive review, "It's a big, ambitious, brilliant, profane, funny, deeply upsetting and magnificently eloquent novel of contemporary England, rich with literary intelligence and entirely bereft of bullshit." The Wall Street Journal wrote "Once you get your Mileses and Simonses straight and events begin to unfurl, it becomes a positively propulsive read. 'The Casual Vacancy' may not be George Eliot, but it's J.K. Rowling; and that's pretty good." The Guardian wrote, "The Casual Vacancy is no masterpiece, but it's not bad at all: intelligent, workmanlike, and often funny." The Economist opined, "This is a novel of insight and skill, deftly drawn and, at the end, cleverly pulled together. It plays to her strengths as a storyteller." David Robinson of The Scotsman praised the novel, saying, "It is far grittier, bleaker (and, occasionally, funnier) than I had expected, and—the acid test—I suspect it would do well even if its author's name weren't J.K. Rowling." The Telegraph lauded the novel as well, writing, "One marvels at the skill with which Rowling weaves such vivid characters in and out of each other's lives, rendering them so complex and viscerally believable that one finds oneself caring for the worst of them." Further positive reviews have come from reviewers for the Associated Press, Express.co.uk, The Daily Mirror, The Kansas City Star, The New Zealand Herald and the Daily Beast, the latter remarked that the book was a "page turner."
The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani panned the novel, comparing it unfavourably to Rowling's Harry Potter series and saying, "We do not come away feeling that we know the back stories of the 'Vacancy' characters in intimate detail the way we did with Harry and his friends and enemies, nor do we finish the novel with a visceral knowledge of how their pasts—and their families' pasts—have informed their present lives." The Los Angeles Times criticised the book, stating that it "fails to conjure Harry Potter's magic." Columnist Jan Moir in the Daily Mail called it "more than 500 pages of relentless socialist manifesto masquerading as literature", though the paper's official review states Rowling is "adept at manipulating emotions, her plotting is neat" though the book is missing a touch of magic. The Daily Telegraph maintained the novel was humorous but said "The novel pretty much explodes towards the end, losing shape in its fury at the dirty, unfair England that we Muggles have made for ourselves. It's like The Archers on amyl nitrate." The Times said "The difficulty, in this fat novel, is the difference between the reader's level of interest in a wholly invented world, such as Harry Potter's, and the world we're stuck with. Rowling has a sharp eye for vivid details, and there are passages of very good writing in this book... But her fictions have little shadow in them."
Within hours of the book's release, it had reached Number 1 position on the Amazon Book Chart in the United States. It was the second biggest adult opening of all time in the United Kingdom, falling short of Dan Brown's 2009 novel, The Lost Symbol, which sold 550,946 copies. It also fell short of Rowling's last release, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that sold 2.6 million copies that became the fastest-selling book in history, a record it still holds. It became the 15th best-selling book of 2012 during its first week of release. Little, Brown and Company has announced that within the first three weeks the book's total sales have topped one million copies in English in all formats across all territories, including the US and the UK
The book won the Best Fiction category in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012.
A Sikh family plays an important part in the novel, and the description of the character Sukhvinder sparked some controversy amongst followers of the Sikh faith. Avtar Singh Makkar, the head of India's Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, commented that Rowling's book would be examined by the scrutiny board of SGPC for anything objectionable. Rowling stated that she admires the Sikh religion and had done a vast amount of research on Sikhism. Other members of the Sikh community appreciated the fact that Rowling portrayed Sikhs and Sikhism in a favourable light and actually draws attention to the racism that Sikhs face.
On 3 December 2012, BBC One and BBC Drama commissioned an exclusive adaptation of The Casual Vacancy, to be released in 2014, from The Blair Partnership who represent J. K. Rowling. The series will be produced through an independent production company operated by Neil Blair and Rick Senat (who will engage as executive producer of the series), on behalf of The Blair Partnership. The deal was struck following discussions between Blair and BBC One Controller Danny Cohen.
J. K. Rowling will collaborate closely with the project, with the number and length of the episodes to be decided once the creative adaptation process has formally begun.