Blogstalker Book Club: The Casual Vacancy

November 30, 2012 Blogging, Book Club, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Psychological 37

Hello you Blogstalking Bookworms! Thank you to everyone who clicked on over here from Lauren at Filing Jointly… Finally. It is TIME. Time to discuss J.K. Rowling’s new book (for grown-ups!) The Casual Vacancy. You remember the drill right? I’m going to throw some discussion questions out in bold so we can be all official and such. I must admit there was a small (okay maybe significant) part of me that was hoping this would turn into Harry Potter: The Adult Years, but alas, it was not meant to be. Did anybody else harbor this same secret wish? Gratuitous photo time:

That’s me at the real Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station, London circa 2004. They put up a sign for the muggles to pose for photos. I may or may not have annoyed the local commuters. Tourists for Harry Potter!

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to mention that I made a conscious effort to separate my expectations from Harry Potter. Everyone deserves a chance to re-invent themselves, even bazillionaire authors who have brought joy to millions. I’m a little bit of an anglophile. I love the accents, I love the history, I love the chic lit (Bridget Jones is my Everywoman.) The fact that The Casual Vacancy was a slice of English life was right up my alley. Why does everything sound better British? Examples of my delight displayed in The Casual Vacancy:

1. “Dessert” is referred to on more than one occasion as “pudding.” (You can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!)

2. “Busing tables” is referred to as “mopping tables.” It actually makes more sense because part of busing tables is wiping them down, like you would with a MOP on a FLOOR.

3. “People Carrier” means Mini Van! How cute is that?! It makes me think of the People Mover at Disney World, which is all kinds of wonderful when your feet hurt from traipsing around the park (or maniacally chasing the characters) all day.

The Casual Vacancy begins with the tragic death of Barry Fairbrother. Barry was an all around good dude. He came from humble beginnings to become a local politician and family man. He coached the high school girl’s rowing team and championed the underprivileged (even at the expense of his relationship with his wife, seeing as he spent their last anniversary writing a puff piece for the newspaper on a local girl from his old neighborhood.) As he and his wife walk from their car to the restaurant where they’ll be having dinner, Barry suffers a brain aneurysm and dies, right there in the “car park.” (Sounds so much more sophisticated than “parking lot” right?!)

Barry’s death sends shock waves through the community. His friends and allies are devastated, while his former enemies on the town council begin plotting how best to replace Barry to advance their cause. What exactly is the cause that’s dividing up the little hamlet of Pagford?

There is a little strip of land under Pagford’s jurisdiction known as The Fields. The Fields is home to a housing project. It houses a pretty rough crowd, as housing projects are wont to do. Crack whores, drug pushers, theft rings, negligent parents- all sorts of unsavory characters make their homes in The Fields. The old guard of Pagford wants nothing to do with it. Like any place though, The Fields aren’t entirely bad. Barry Fairbrother was a heck of a guy and he came from The Fields. Thus, the division.

The town council is divided pretty much 50/50 on The Fields, but with Barry’s death, Howard Mollison intends to install his son Miles in the vacant councilor’s seat to finally rid Pagford of The Fields. Barry’s old allies catch wind of Howard’s plans and seek to find an electable alternative to keep the balance of power in check. After all, the people of The Fields benefit from Pagford’s school system- who knows how many Barry Fairbrothers could be growing up in squalor only to become contributing members of society, right?

While all this political maneuvering is going on, the families of the “upstanding” town of Pagford are floundering. There is a veritable teen rebellion that takes place anonymously online under the guise of “The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother.” The children turn on their parents. In the case of Simon Price, that’s pretty well justified. He’s an abusive jerk who only wants to win the council seat to facilitate his dealings in illegal goods. Andrew sees the anonymous post as the only way to prevent his father from causing even more trouble. Seriously, how much did all of you want to punch Simon?

Parminder Jawanda is already on the town council, but having been one of Barry’s closest allies, she’s a target of derision. She isn’t rotten to the core, but she has a strained relationship with her bullied self-harming daughter Sukhvinder and the poor girl lashes out. Sukhvinder and her mom have issues because unlike the other two Jawanda children, Sukhvinder is awkward and a middling student. I don’t think Parminder is a terrible mother, but she certainly doesn’t realize what an effect her indifference has on her daughter. How did you feel about Parminder? Do you think I’m cutting her too much slack?

Poor Colin Walls feels the need to run for office to honor his good friend Barry. Colin suffers from OCD with bad thoughts. He’s mentally ill and completely terrified that he’ll accidentally molest a child. It sounds weird, but this disorder was covered on one of those therapy shows. It’s a thing (you know, because TV can’t lie. But for real, I’m pretty sure this disorder is legit.) Colin’s son is a complete jerk. Stuart “Fats” Walls has CLEARLY read The Fountainhead too many times. (Irony alert! “Fats” isn’t fat.) He is the epitome of teen douchebaggery. He’s a bully not only to his peers (especially Sukhvinder!), but to Colin as well. How much did you want to punch Fats?!

This image was borrowed from HERE. Please give all credit and all clicks to them!

The undisputed queen of this epic tale of class warfare and dysfunctional families is one Krystal Weedon. She is such a tragic figure. Krystal grew up in The Fields. To say she’s rough around the edges is an understatement. Her mother is a heroin addict. She’s been exposed to rapists and drug dealers and her screwed up 16 year old psyche is the most stable influence in her 3 year old brother’s life. The only “out” she can see for herself is to get pregnant so she can get her own government issue apartment and benefits. She plans to use this opportunity to take her brother out from under the influence of their hot mess of a mother. Krystal serves as the embodiment of The Fields, and is a lightening rod on both sides of the Pagford debate. To some, she’s the underdog who has potential to rise above her circumstances. To others, she’s the loose cannon who punched the teeth out of one of the Mollison girls. How did you feel about Krystal? Sinner? Saint? Or something in between?

There is just SO MUCH going on in this book. When I first started reading I actually thought JK Rowling might be rebelling a little bit from her wholesome image because there were a lot of teen boy erections going on. That really has nothing to do with anything, it’s just an observation. Seriously though, this book is chock full of controversy. I think Rowling does a good job of portraying both sides of the class warfare argument. Everyone wants to help the needy, but nobody wants to live next door to the crack house, you know? Even the Walls family, who are pro-Fields freak out when they find out Fats has been boinking Krystal.

For a small town, this book has a huge cast of characters. The bits I’ve discussed really only scratch the surface. I mean, what about Howard and his tawdry affair? Samantha and her cougar crush on the boy band? Gavin and his stunted relationship capability? Kay, the overworked social worker with self esteem issues? Ruth and her refusal to leave Simon despite the fact that he occasionally beats up her and the children? Gaia’s teen angst? Mary and her grief? Miles and his weird dependence on his parents? And what exactly made Vikram Jawanda so dreamy? Who was your favorite character? Whose baggage do you most relate to?

I really enjoyed this book. I liked that it portrayed people as they ACTUALLY are- flawed with bits of good and bad floating around together. There often weren’t clear heroes and villains (okay, Simon was clearly a villain but even evil Fats showed some redemptive qualities at the bitter end.) I LOVED the sheer British-ness of it all! Overall, I’ve got to hand it to Rowling. Is it Harry Potter? Heck no. Is it good anyway? Absolutely. Well done, Ms. Rowling! What were your opinions on this book? Did you love it? Hate it? Tell us about it!

Thanks for participating in this month’s Blogstalker Book Club! Lauren and I discussed choosing a lighter book (as in, something that isn’t crushingly depressing) for December. We’ve decided to tackle Rachel Dratch’s memoir Girl Walks Into A Bar…: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle. Join us?

Rachel Dratch thinks Blogstalker Book Club is the COOLEST!

37 Responses to “Blogstalker Book Club: The Casual Vacancy”

  1. ashley

    Yet again I must say I love you Katie! Ive been waiting to snatch this book off my wish list, now I’m definitely going to read it!

  2. Jayne

    I really enjoyed the book as well. I, too, loved Harry Potter and I probably read this mostly because J.K. Rowling wrote it. However I wasn’t expecting a HP story, I was more curious what else she could do.
    Like you, I appreciated how the characters that were “real”, with both good sides and the bad sides. Who doesn’t make a bad choice every once in awhile?
    -Howard Mollison annoyed the heck out of me. Even though he wasn’t 100% bad like Simon Price (SUCH a jerk!), there wasn’t much at all that endeared me to him. He was one of my most-disliked characters.
    -I found it very interesting how so many of the problems in the book could be traced back to many examples of poor parenting – all the way from Terri Weedon, who was just a flat-out really bad mom, to Parminder and the Walls, who were too caught up in there own issues to pay attention to what was going on with their kids. I think there is a lot of this going on in society these days (and honestly, there probably always has been). Great commentary on the modern society, J.K.!
    -I find it very sad that Krystal felt like her only way out was to get pregnant. But I think this is something that happens a lot more these days…
    -Poor Sukhvinder! I luckily have never battled with depression or severe bullying or anything like that so I have a hard time wrapping my head around feeling so hopeless that cutting yourself seems to be the only way to make yourself feel better. The other students were so mean to her, and her family was so disappointed in her so she didn’t feel like she had anyone to turn to, it was terribly sad. My heart went out to her almost more than anyone else.
    -And the end of the book… I was so sad for Krystal! She wasn’t a bad person at all, she was in a bad situation and did make some bad choices, but mostly did what she could with her situation and the one time she really messed up, the result was devastating. And her mistake was something I could see so many teenagers making. It was heart-breaking. But I get why it ended like it did, and it wouldn’t have been as powerful a book if it had a happy-go-lucky ending. And I cried. So I guess that makes me even sappier than you :).

    I’m sure I have a lot more opinions that I’m not thinking of right now. Overall I really enjoyed the book. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who needs a heavily plot-driven story or a lot of action in a book, because it was slower paced for most of the book. But the character development was wonderful and really made the book fascinating to me.

    • Words for Worms

      Thanks for the comment Jayne, I feel like I’m reading a term paper your thoughts are so fabulous! I totally agree with you that people who need a lot of action in a book might want to avoid this. Maybe that’s why HP readers have been disappointed? The character development was spot-on, which was really the high point. (Oh yes, I also agree that I occasionally wanted to punch Howard too. I’m rather violent about the characters in this book!)

  3. Ashley F

    I picked this up when it came out but it’s been sitting on my desk ever since. The initial reviews were not good so I was putting it off because I LOVED Potter. I will give it a try in the new year for sure.

    • Words for Worms

      Eh. I don’t put much stock in “real” reviewers, and I don’t think I’ve read a review by a blogger yet who didn’t like this. It’s totally character driven, so there’s minimal action, but I think you’ll dig it. If you don’t, I’ll admit defeat and take my punishment of a bludger to the head. (But only one. I’m concerned about concussions.)

  4. Quirky Chrissy

    I wanted to read this and participate in discussion…but then it felt like school and I didn’t wanna. So I shall now put it on my ever expanding lists of books that Katie reads that I should read because she is smarter than me and knows good books and doesn’t end up reading the stupid free ones on the Nook because she is lazy and they are there…. errr ummm… I was at Platform 9 3/4!

  5. Marianne Crowe Loes

    I read this a couple of weeks ago. I’m a huge HP fan so just had to read it. I wasn’t expecting Harry Potter and I knew it would have a different tone. I was really curious to see what else was in JK’s head (I call her JK because we’re friends in my head). I have to say it wasn’t one of my favorites. Does this mean I lose my HP fan card?

    Anyway, here’s my thoughts to your discussion points:

    While I knew not to expect Harry Potter: The Adult Years, I did hope it would hold my attention like that series did. I’m not one that needs a lot of action, I’d much rather read dialogue than action scenes, but I do like more plot themes and twists than this book had.

    I’m also an anglophile. I love the “people carriers”. It’s oh-so British phrases like this that warmed my heart when I was thinking that I wasn’t sure if I liked this book.

    I wanted to punch Simon very, very much.

    As for Parminder, while I don’t want to let her off the hook for being too critical of her daughter, I also feel like Sukhvinder hid her suffering very, very well. Once Parminder realized what she was going through, she took swift action and supported her. So I feel like she really didn’t understand the gravity of the situation and was therefore unable to resolve it, until it was literally in her face, and then she stepped up to the plate.

    I wanted to punch Fats very, very much too. Especially for the cyber bullying. I’m so glad I had gone through middle and high school before that was a thing. I can’t image going through those times with social media, just makes me shudder. I also hated that he was mean to Andrew because he was moving. It really illustrated how incapable he was of working out his feelings and always defaulted to being mean.

    As for Krystal, I really felt bad for her. Not that I would have been her close friend if I were her age (I wouldn’t trust her for anything), but I really wanted someone to help her. It seems like the only person who ever came close to helping her was Barry and once he died there was no one to step in to take his place and she was just a lost cause. It was really tragic that she felt like getting pregnant was the only way out and then even more tragic with the way things really turned out. I realize that Krystal’s situation is a very real problem, found in the UK, US and elsewhere, and I think JK did a good job of portraying all sides of the argument. I just hope those that should have learned a lesson from her short life did, but I know not all would have. It seemed like Fats was ready to change his attitude though.

    For some reason I liked Andrew and identified with him the most. I’m not sure why. Maybe because he seemed to really want to improve his life and didn’t think that bullying other people was the right way to do that (ahem, Fats). He could have easily been a bully like his father, but instead he resisted his influence and went about doing his own thing (getting a job, making new friends, etc.) and you could tell he was going to build his own life eventually and be just fine.

    So as I said, it wasn’t my favorite. Not that I didn’t like it, but it didn’t really resonate with me. It was a bit too “middle of the road” for my taste. It brought up some really good social points, but stopped short of moving me emotionally.

    (Sorry for the really long comment. I’ve only done book club meetings in person and maybe I don’t really know how this is supposed to work.)

    • Words for Worms

      Oh no, your comment is perfectly appropriate. I make it a point to have as few “rules” as possible, so talk talk talk! I don’t know that I’d count it among my favorites either, but I still thought it was a solid book. I’m with you on the emotion too. I’m really surprised with myself that I didn’t cry. I guess I wasn’t all that attached to anyone, except to want to punch them. I’m pleased with your list of slaps and punches. It makes me feel less insane!

  6. Rhian

    I hadn’t planned to read this book partly because of what I had heard about it. But also because (and here comes the bit I suspect most of you won’t agree with) while I loved HP and thought it was a great tale, I don’t think JK Rowling is a very good writer. If you read HP critically, there are plot holes and flaws all over the place, but I was quite happy to take HP on face value. Except for the epilogue in the last book – that was completely awful and unforgivable. So I didn’t have high hopes for this book.

    I really struggled to read this and was actually calculating how much I had left to read – which I *never* do. I found almost all of the characters disagreeable, with no redeeming features. They were all quite stereotypical and it read a little like “East Enders”. The novel makes a little more sense when you realise that JK Rowling is chair of a charity for disadvantaged youth.

    I found the book easier to read as I went – though I’m not sure if that was because I told myself to stop whining about it, or because things started happening.

    The ending with regard to Krystal was sad, but I’m not sure how else Rowling could have concluded her story. I do admit to feeling very satisfied at how Shirley and Howard ended up. But I still felt there were too many loose ends, and some of the characters behaved in ways that weren’t consistent with what had come before.

    Despite all of the above, I don’t regret reading The Casual Vacancy, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone.

    I won’t address all your discussion points (this is long enough as it is!) but the characters I wanted to punch are Howard, Shirley, Simon, Gavin and Stuart. The characters I wanted to slap were the rest of them except for Andrew, Krystal and Sukhvinder. I would say my favourite character was Andrew, but I couldn’t really relate to any of them.

    Thanks for choosing The Casual Vacancy. The mark of a good bookclub book (IMHO) is not that everyone loves it, but that it has lots of points for discussion. I look forward to reading the next one.

    • Words for Worms

      Thanks Rhian! You know, I really don’t mind if people don’t agree with me. I only mind when they make snide comments about my intelligence while they are disagreeing! (You are all sorts of lovely, BTW. Best disagreement I’ve ever gotten.) I can see what you’re saying about HP even to an extent. (I mean, if time turners were a thing, couldn’t they just have killed Tom Riddle when he started being evil?) The charm of the HP saga shooshed any skeptical voices in my head though. I really wish I lived in England right now so I could see East Enders… I’m sure I could find it on the internet but I’m too lazy. I know it’s a soap opera about the dodgy side of London, right? I agree that this started off rather slowly and picked up steam as it went, but it never became a freight train. Overall, I definitely liked this book, but I’d think carefully about who I’d recommend it to. It’s certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I’m so glad you’ll be joining us on the next book! :)

      • Jayne

        How did I never think of using a time turner to go back in kill Tom Riddle? It seems so simple!

  7. It's A Dome Life

    I haven’t read this book yet so I skipped most of your post. I didn’t want to know all about it until I have read it. Once I do I’ll try to sneak back and add in my two cents.

    I really wish the Harry Saga would continue too….

  8. RebeccaScaglione

    I have soooo much to reply here but I’ll keep it short! I went to Platform 9 and 3/4 too! I actually got to go recently to the HP Warner Brother’s Studio which was ridiculously amazing. Here’s my post on it: http://loveatfirstbook.com/2012/10/14/book-thought-immersed-in-potter-london-edition/

    Then I also read The CV. I enjoyed it, but didn’t love love it. I thought that it was great for JK to expand out of her normal genre and show us another side of her, but I didn’t love the book. I’m glad I read it though because I did enjoy the social commentary aspects. My review is here: http://loveatfirstbook.com/2012/09/28/the-casual-vacancy-by-j-k-rowling-book-21/

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on my thoughts! Haha!

  9. Megan M.

    I finally snagged a copy of The Casual Vacancy from my library and just finished it yesterday. I had already read your review and a few others, so I was prepared for unlikeable characters and a sad ending.

    I definitely wanted to punch Simon and Shirley! Howard didn’t bother me all that much for some reason. Gavin was an idiot, and poor Kay – hey, girl we’ve all been there! At least she stood her ground at the end. The rest of them I alternated between empathizing with them and being annoyed with them. The only truly redeemable characters at the end were Andrew and Sukhvinder. I agree with your thoughts on Parminder – it seemed like she wanted to change how she was treating Sooks, and I was cheering on her outburst at Howard, so I couldn’t really fault her.

    Krystal was not exactly likeable but I sure was rooting for her. I was the most upset by what happened to her. If she had just had a little more time with Barry as a good influence, or Kay as their social worker, I think she could have made her life better. I was really outraged that three (was it three? or more?) people noticed what was happening with Robbie and never even paused to help. I can’t imagine seeing a three-year-old in that situation and just walking right past.

    Fats, I just pitied him. He had everything so wrong. Look what can happen to a child who believes he’s unwanted. He was turning into quite a sociopath before the ending seemed to shake him up.

    I love J.K. Rowling, I think she’s an incredible storyteller and she did not disappoint with this book. I feel like she wrote about a lot of the same themes from HP but it hit you harder in a real world setting without any cutesy names and magic to help you remove yourself from it (mudbloods vs. purebloods, the way Draco treated Ron because he was poor, etc.) I can’t wait to see what J.K. comes up with next!

    • Words for Worms

      Thanks Megan! Loved your take on things! I like that you were able to pity Fats instead of wanting to punch him. LOL. I hadn’t thought a whole lot about it, but I agree that some social issues were lightly grazed in HP that Rowling clearly wanted to flesh out. Way to have insight. Way to be awesome! :)

  10. kp

    I’ve had this post bookmarked for a while now – trying to slog my way through this book ended up being harder than I imagined, but I wanted so much to participate.

    Thoughts on your excellent questions:
    I HATED Simon with every fiber of my being. And I hated Pretty much the entire Mollison family. They were so self important. I actually cringed when sections following their families came up, because everything was always so tense and inconsiderate (nominee for biggest understatement of the year).

    Parminder, Terri and the Walls. I don’t see them as bad parents. I see them as parents of teens (no parent of a teen knows what’s going on 100% in their kids lives) who are doing what they know to do based on their own experiences.
    I believe, with Parminder’s religious and ethnic background, that her expectations of her children and how she intereacted with them were normal. I am sure that was how her parents raised her – it is a cycle.
    Similarly, Terri grew up in a crappy home and didn’t know how to get herself out. Addiction, as Kay and Parminder pointed out, is not something you just go “ah, okay, I’m done with that now.” That said, this plot line frustrated me so much because I wish so much that there was a better alternative to getting Robbie and Krystal out of that house. But a foster situation was not likely for either of them realistically.
    And the Walls… well, Tessa simply had too much on her plate to be able to handle Fats. The kid was a horrible brat. I don’t think her entire outburst at the end was healthy for him, but I did think “I hope you DID get her pregnant so she has something to live for” comment was a dose of TRUTH that Fats had thought he was so keen to get until it happened. Having worked with some unfavorable kids myself, it is unfortunate but very true that sometimes a lesson and resulting change has to be learned in the hardest way possible.

    Fave character… if I had to pick one, I was team Kay. She was educated, shared her opinions so well and dealt with some really horrible stuff in her job, and I was super impressed with the research JK did in how a social worker has to roll. (although I almost threw up in my mouth when she used the Weedon’s names – that is like the antithesis of the social worker code! WTH!?) As for her relationship, gah… I wished so much that as “improper” as it would have been, that she would have SAID the things she was thinking about Gavin as she thought them. It would have saved her some heartache, or at least some time.

    In the end, if I’m totally honest, I hated this book a lot. Which is unfortunate. Admittedly, JK writes people so well. They are real and honest and relatable. But she used 500 pages to try and explain everything in the inner workings of an entire town-full of people – in comparison she had 7 books to make us understand that much about a community in the HP universe. It was just too many – I ended up having to make a chart to reference as I read so I knew who was thinking what and how it related to the rest of the town. And while tension in a book is certainly good, I felt so angry on every character’s behalf at some point, and being angry while reading made me angry at the book. I didn’t feel good about having read it. You can certainly have a debbie downer book and I can still feel good about having read it, having taken something away from it. But I just felt like I had spent 500 pages arguing with the book, and in the end I resented that feeling pretty hard.

    I am pumped to read Rachel Dratch’s book – thank you for something lighthearted to follow all that!

  11. kpquepasa

    I’ve had this post bookmarked for a while now – trying to slog my way through this book ended up being harder than I imagined, but I wanted so much to participate.

    Thoughts on your excellent questions:
    I HATED Simon with every fiber of my being. And I hated Pretty much the entire Mollison family. They were so self important. I actually cringed when sections following their families came up, because everything was always so tense and inconsiderate (nominee for biggest understatement of the year).

    Parminder, Terri and the Walls. I don’t see them as bad parents. I see them as parents of teens (no parent of a teen knows what’s going on 100% in their kids lives) who are doing what they know to do based on their own experiences.
    I believe, with Parminder’s religious and ethnic background, that her expectations of her children and how she intereacted with them were normal. I am sure that was how her parents raised her – it is a cycle.
    Similarly, Terri grew up in a crappy home and didn’t know how to get herself out. Addiction, as Kay and Parminder pointed out, is not something you just go “ah, okay, I’m done with that now.” That said, this plot line frustrated me so much because I wish so much that there was a better alternative to getting Robbie and Krystal out of that house. But a foster situation was not likely for either of them realistically.
    And the Walls… well, Tessa simply had too much on her plate to be able to handle Fats. The kid was a horrible brat. I don’t think her entire outburst at the end was healthy for him, but I did think “I hope you DID get her pregnant so she has something to live for” comment was a dose of TRUTH that Fats had thought he was so keen to get until it happened. Having worked with some unfavorable kids myself, it is unfortunate but very true that sometimes a lesson and resulting change has to be learned in the hardest way possible.

    Fave character… if I had to pick one, I was team Kay. She was educated, shared her opinions so well and dealt with some really horrible stuff in her job, and I was super impressed with the research JK did in how a social worker has to roll. (although I almost threw up in my mouth when she used the Weedon’s names – that is like the antithesis of the social worker code! WTH!?) As for her relationship, gah… I wished so much that as “improper” as it would have been, that she would have SAID the things she was thinking about Gavin as she thought them. It would have saved her some heartache, or at least some time.

    In the end, if I’m totally honest, I hated this book a lot. Which is unfortunate. Admittedly, JK writes people so well. They are real and honest and relatable. But she used 500 pages to try and explain everything in the inner workings of an entire town-full of people – in comparison she had 7 books to make us understand that much about a community in the HP universe. It was just too many – I ended up having to make a chart to reference as I read so I knew who was thinking what and how it related to the rest of the town. And while tension in a book is certainly good, I felt so angry on every character’s behalf at some point, and being angry while reading made me angry at the book. I didn’t feel good about having read it. You can certainly have a debbie downer book and I can still feel good about having read it, having taken something away from it. But I just felt like I had spent 500 pages arguing with the book, and in the end I resented that feeling pretty hard.

    I am pumped to read Rachel Dratch’s book – thank you for something lighthearted to follow all that!

    • Words for Worms

      Very well said! “I just felt like I had spent 500 pages arguing with the book.” I’m sorry you didn’t care for the book, but that is such an excellent sentiment- one I’ve felt before. I’m glad you’re willing to trust me to pick another book- I think we’ll all dig this one. Funny things are delightful!

  12. Gem

    I just finished this book. I thought it was a real page turner. I was interested in all the characters though liked few of them.

    I think the characters I most wanted to punch were Simon and Gavin as they’re the only ones where there were no reasons whatsoever to justify their behaviour. I loved when Gavin rang Kay at the end for a drink after Mary told him she wasn’t interested. Howard, amused me. He really just doesn’t seem to care about what other people think of him e.g. when it’s plain that Parminder hates him yet he still says “how’s Parminder?” really patronisingly everytime he sees her.

    Krystal, I saw as more of a heroine than a sinner. Mainly because she’s too ignorant because of her upbringing to be able to deal with situations in the way she should do e.g. when she’s told that Parminder killed her gran, she believes it instantly and threatens Sukhvinder but later is told that her gran wasn’t killed and passes this info on to her mother. I think at heart that she is kind, shown mainly in her devotion to looking after her brother.

    Fats is for me, the most interesting character in the book. I liked the whole concept of him wanting to be ‘authentic’. I don’t think that he was particularly authentic – e.g. when he didn’t bully Sukhvinder when his parents were around at Barry’s funeral though he probably would have done otherwise. I think he’s extremely messed up about his adoption which explains his interest in the fields, he assumes his biological parents came from there and wants to feel like he belongs somewhere.

    I wondered whether Colin actually was his real father. At one point in the book Colin has flashbacks of a 14 yr old and later Tesa tells Fats that his mother was a 14 yr old. Also it would explain why Colin didn’t want Fats around as a constant reminder and also the vague part later where Colin finds out what Tesa told Fats about his parentage and it comes across like she’s made it up to make things easier between Colin and Fats.
    I think that though it’s pretty clear that Colin doesn’t love Fats, it’s not enough of a reason for Fats to behave as he does in the book. He’s a total sociopath and it’s surprising Tesa hasn’t picked up on it being a guidance counsellor or maybe she’s just burying her head in the sand which she seems to do when she knows he’s not out with Andrew. He reminded me of Tony from Skins UK.

    I really enjoyed the book and would definitely read more of JK Rowling’s stuff but I just don’t think some of my friends who are HP lovers would like it. If I recommended it, I would probably really stress the fact that most of the characters are tools and it’s not Harry Potter.

    • Words for Worms

      Hi Gem! Thanks for stopping by to talk books! Simon deserved a serious pummeling, didn’t he? That guy. Just reading all your comments brought the whole thing back to life for me. Now I need to have a drink and calm down because I’m getting all riled up thinking about fictional characters again. Sigh. This happens far too often… :)

  13. cimuthvistar

    Hello again, Katie. I just finished this book last night, and i remember you posted a review on The Casual Vacancy so i might as well join the discussion

    At first, I tried to read the English version, but all the vivid rude languages and sexual acts that appeared in the first chapters bothered me so much. I stopped reading it for few weeks, then after I read your thoughts here, i decided to give it another try, this time in Indonesian Language. Surprisingly, the book become less rude (Indonesia doesn’t have many vocabulary on swear words, and they are so rarely used these days. Many Indonesians would curse in english, funnily enough) and i finally finished it!

    I never read anything like this before; a political, character-focused, realistic novel. I am all for fantasy books (thus, Harry Potter). Only because Rowling writes it (and you reviewed it) i want to have a try. And I’m not regretting it, although not too happy with it either. It gives me real insights of what’s on people’s minds.

    I loved how everything feels so real here. Like the way Andrew stalked Gaia’s facebook, how he scrolled along and checked if Marco and Gaia are still contacting each other. Or how Shirley and Mo compete to get the hottest gossip in the neighborhood. Or Terri tried to overcome her addiction in order to keep Robbie. Even Colin’s OCD and Samantha’s sick crushes, i think that’s truly happening in people’s heads. And it scared me. I’m almost grateful I’m not a mind reader, knowing even how saintly people can look from the outside, they can be very awful inside. Maybe the only downright good dude in this book is Barry Fairbrother himself (because he died in the very beginning, we don’t have a chance to peek on his mind).

    As for Simon, yeah he’s a jerk. But he showed his jerkiness very clearly, and that makes him not so detesting as Howard, who acts innocent but is rotten inside. I hate hypocrisy. But even Howard showed good attitude as a deli boss. Hmm. I really can’t decide who’s the worst of them. They’re all bad and good!

    My favorite character is Krystal. Her messy life and awful upbringing is not entirely her fault. I’m sure eventhough she’s outright b****, she has a sincere heart. And it hurts really bad when she made one bad choice which resulted in (SPOILER ALERT) her heartbreaking end.

    The ending itself is unexpectable. I’m not sure how i feel about it; it’s sad, but it did good to many of the characters. It’s interesting that what’s hurting Sukhvinder in the river is the computer Simon once disposed. And how that wound (and some other wounds) fixed her relationship with Parminder.

    There’s one thing bugging me though, who wrote about Howard’s affair? Is it Andrew? or Fats?

    My overall opinion is that Rowling clearly shows the quality of a good writer. I am a potterhead alright, and who suspects the lady who creates the whimsical Wizarding World can create another world, completely the opposite to that of Harry Potter? In the end I have to admit, although the writing styles (long sentences, many commas, sarcastic similes) are all the same, the content is downright different. And I found I fall in love with Rowling’s writing all over again :)

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