My feelings about writing this post are very strange and difficult to put into words. I wanted to have this blog updated daily, but due to Rowling’s long, long parts and my damnable laziness, it took me nearly three months to finish it. And yet oddly enough it feels like such a short time ago that I set out on this journey. And now it has come to an end, and to be honest, I don’t want it to end. I don’t want to finish this journey. And yet operating this blog has given me such a great deal of stress, and I want to get this post up before the end of the year. To be honest, I think that’s why I don’t want to finish this post. Because of that stress, that I feel that I have such a huge obligation to write the greatest post I have ever written. This is why I will not be writing a “wrapping up” section, as Daniel has done, as it would imply that I felt all my other posts to be inferior, when I poured effort into them and I feel that some of my best work is in them. And I am not going to post readings of any more books. This is the last post of my blog, period. This project has caused me a great deal of stress. To be honest, the only reason I am completing this is because Daniel requested that I continue the posts way back when I was having trouble posting “Tuesday“. Other than him, I have not even the reward of readers.
I realize I have put a great deal of negativity into this post and now my entire blog series in general, in retrospect. And I do not want anyone to believe that I did not enjoy reading this book. I did. For months leading up to this book anticipation built up inside of me. I read the full profile of Rowling by The New Yorker a day or two before the book was released, and I went out and bought it with my own money on opening day.
And now I have finished reading it. We have reached the end of our journey. The Casual Vacancy is complete.
And so we should ask ourselves: What was the main point of this novel? How do those themes come across in the novel? Has Rowling given her first adult novel a satisfactory conclusion?
The book was advertised as a political novel, and I expected and anticipated humorous political scheming and debates, but one thing that surprised and disappointed me about the novel was that the election really wasn’t important at all. It only served in the background to further the characters’ plots. And in this final part, with the election long won, it is the characters’ plots that must be resolved.
The resolution of Shirley & Howard‘s storyline opens the chapter (the part is divided into four sections, but for once they are not numbered, perhaps so that people would read the part straight through in one sitting). Many nay-sayers may critique Rowling for creating drama with an event that was not taking place for the first time but here is a difference. Howard made a quick recovery last time. Now he has regained consciousness but is still at the hospital in critical condition. He has not said a word about Shirley running out with the needle. Rowling seems to imply that the surgery has made Howard unable to sexually perform so Shirley is no longer angry over the affair, but I wish she would be more clear on this.
Samantha & Miles‘ storyline ends in a similar way. The tragedy of Howard’s second heart attack has brought Miles and Samantha back together as well. Rowling wrote in her first novel, “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them“. It’s clear this is her personal philosophy (see Andrew’s friendship with Gaia and Sukhvinder), but I’m not sure I entirely believe it myself. I could see a temporary pact being made during a tragedy, but I believe it would generally end once the tragedy has finished. It is ridiculous to me that merely the shared experience and concern would cause Samantha to suddenly love Miles to the point that she “had made love the previous night, and she had not pretended that he was anybody else“. However, I know that Samantha did have love for Miles at first, and it was a good move for Rowling to have her say earlier she wasn’t sure whether she loved him or not (although this feels like an editor’s trick, given all the feelings we’ve seen of hers before; the feeling from her should have been incorporated then), so the philosophy isn’t completely implausible in how it plays out here, though I have strong issues with it.
But another very interesting part of Samantha’s personal storyline is that the tragedy of Robbie’s death also changed Samantha in another, far more plausible way. After seeing what all happened as a result of Terri’s drug problems and a feeling of personal guilt over not saving Robbie and thus Krystal as well, she decides to join the council to try to prevent the addiction clinic from being closed. This change is very real to me and I like it, particularly because it adds a large touch of happiness to this very sad ending, which the revelation that Dr. Jawanda has gone through with her resignation does, as well, as it means Colin will be co-opted onto the council.
Andrew & Gaia‘s storyline ends happily, too, for both of them. Gaia is moving back to London as she wanted Andrew is moving to Reading and will be able to see Gaia when she visits, and perhaps this relationship will form though the feelings prior revealed that Gaia has of Andrew (“She was worth much more than Fats Wall, she knew that. If it had even been Andy Price, she would have felt better about it.”) make this somewhat unlikely. But there is hope for him, unlike
Gavin, whose storyline ends in humiliating failure, as he has burned every bridge he had, and has been left with no one, making a vain attempt to make amends with Kay only to be hung up on scornfully.
Fats‘ storyline ends merely with him finally having seemingly given up on his authentic lifestyle. Tessa attempts to take him to Krystal and Robbie’s funeral to further cure this, but Colin is angry at her over the things she revealed to Fats on the ride home (Rowling, annoyingly enough, felt it necessary to have Tessa explain the reasons for her talk with Fats), so she goes simply with Andrew. But he is allowed the further blow of guilt when he looks out the window briefly as the funeral hearse passes by with the coffins out in front to see.
Another shocking twist comes as a result of Fats’ guilt. He confessed to his parents about having written the post about Colin, then proceeded to take credit for all the other posts, in an effort to get himself punished as severely as possible, as he felt he deserved.
Sukhvinder‘s storyline ends with her having seemingly gotten over her depression, which her parents have now realized (being doctors, it stands to reason they recognize cutting scars). It bothers me to realize that Rowling appears to have forgotten Sukhvinder’s desire to drown as she describes Sukhvinder as having been afraid in the water and wondering how long she would have been able to live. But maybe this is just another case of not stating it. She may have been implying that Sukhvinder was afraid of death in the reality despite her abstract yearning of it, a feeling I know to be perfectly real and a great insight into people, and it would seem that the near drowning was the moment that made her fully realize it. It may be Rowling realizes the insights I do not and is not stating them so the audience and the critics can read them themselves, I’m not sure.
But the storyline resolution that runs through every other one in this section, the one that the book openly closes with, is that of the Weedons. When we are in Shirley’s perspective, she has been ranting about Krystal and Fats, that they caused Howard’s condition to worsen by delaying the paramedics by calling out two ambulances and creating confusion, and to be honest, she has a point. She and Maureen gossip about the imminent funeral.
Then when the story changes to Andrew (this part is divided into sections, but they are not numbered, merely marked by spaces, perhaps so that people would read it in one sitting, which worked in my case), Gaia is planning to go to the funeral and Andrew says he will be attending as well when he hears she is going, then we get a memory of Krystal from him. Then he is driven by Tessa to pick up Fats for the funeral, but as said previously they end up going without him.
Then the POV switches to Samantha, who sees them through the window and mistakes Andrew for Fats and is shocked and then quickly turns away when she realizes her mistake out of embarrassment over “the kissing incident”. We get her reflecting on whether she should go to the funeral (she decides no) and remembering Krystal.
The book closes after Kay and Gaia leave for the funeral, at the actual funeral which is described in vivid detail, and we are told of how Sukhvinder basically made all the arrangement. The book is deeply moving (in a happy way) in Sukhvinder’s devotion, and (in a very sad way) when we learn how Terri has reacted to losing both her children practically within an instant. She has lost all energy and vitality and fallen into a deep state of depression. We are told that “Sukhvinder had been frightened of her… it was like talking to a corpse“, and at the funeral she “…seemed scarcely aware of where she was“. (The final sentence of the book is “Her family half carried Terri Weedon back down the royal blue carpet, and the congregation averted its eyes“.)
Then we are given the feelings of the characters gathered there, and then the POV stays with Sukhvinder, who first dwells on how the vicar is refusing to speak about who Krystal was, and then we are given another memory of her, this time from Sukhvinder. Krystal Weedon’s legacy is deeply rooted into this entire part, what people think of her and the person she was. What people think of her and how they remember her is the main theme that runs through the final part.
The final chapter does a very good job portraying the characters, and resolving their plots, and the characters’ plots were what this novel were what this book was all about, nothing more. This novel is basically “a story about nothing”. To describe what the story is actually about would be impossible, because it would mean describing all the characters’ plots and how intricately and cleverly they are intertwined.
Rowling stated that she wrote it for herself planning never to publish it, and this is easy to see. She clearly came up with these people and then she got caught up in their lives. It annoys me that the publishers have advertised this as a very high-brow book, when really it is just a silly comedy in the end, nothing more than a glimpse into life in this small town. The book is life in its essence, just a slice of life in this small town. Its ending continues this theme well, too: for some, the ending is happy. For others, it is sad. For Andrew, it is bittersweet. Rowling makes it clear to us both that he may never “get” Gaia and that Simon’s abuse has not ceased and that Andrew refuses to report it when given the chance. (All is mutable!)
This is not to say that it is a bad novel, though perhaps only due to Rowling’s motivations about writing it. But I will not say whether I think this book is good or bad. Whether you like this book or not ultimately does not prove that the book is either good or bad, but succeeds stupendously at proving the kind of person you are. Any type of the typical critical review which aims to say whether the book is good or bad and such opinions presented by people in one’s life is entirely irrelevant and should be ignored.
Rowling does a good job portraying the morays of a small town in this part most notably but in the entire book, how the plot becomes town lore, how everyone in the “lore” develops a reputation from the people in the town, which, as I have said before, was also portrayed very well in the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Small towns and their ways seem to be a thing that Rowling is obsessed with, just like death.
There is significantly less death in this book than I expected and that critics had strongly implied there would be. Yet it is a theme deeply infused into the novel. Rowling was right that “the casual vacancy” would be the perfect title for the book, for it symbolizes death itself in many cases (Barry, Robbie, and Krystal’s).
But I can see the motivation behind naming her book “Consequences” as she had originally intended to, although they are less obvious than the reasons behind the final title. The book is largely centered around consequences:
. Simon loses his job and decides to drop out of the election in consequence of his criminal actions and abuse of his son. Sadly he gains a new job and does not receive legal consequences for his abuse. Rowling certainly does not claim life is perfect.
. All of the posts are of course in consequence to their subject’s behavior, but only Simon and Howard’s have any real effect.
. Gavin’s life is ruined in consequence to him being dishonest with Kay and then through being honest with Mary. And he is humiliated in consequence to attempting to reconcile with Kay.
. Dr. Jawanda is suspended from work in consequence of her outburst at Howard in the council meeting.
. Andrew too receives negative consequences for writing the post, in his beating by Simon and his brief sadness over leaving Pagford but also positive in his satisfaction over Simon losing his job and dropping out of the election.
. Sukhvinder cuts her wrists in consequence of Fats and her mother. Her parents become kind to her in consequence of discovering her cutting. The community views her as a heroine in consequence of her attempt to save Robbie.
. Howard’s affair is revealed in consequence to Patricia mentioning it to Andrew, who in consequence writes the post, also in consequence to Simon believing Howard wrote the post mocking him.
. The consequence of Howard’s unhealthy eating is that he has two heart attacks and closes the book in the hospital in critical condition.
. The consequence of Howard’s affair is that Shirley becomes resentful and tries to kill him. Another consequence of his heart attack is that he becomes unable to perform sexually and Shirley worries about him dying, thus she dwells no more on the affair.
. Same goes for Miles and Samantha for the latter.
. And the consequence of Fats’ lifestyle is obvious. His and Krystal’s irresponsibility caused a three-and-a-half-year-old child to die. And the consequences of Gavin, Samantha, and Shirley ignoring him are also obvious.
I could go on and on, but the justification has been proven, and really, when you think about it, all novels are about consequences. You can’t write a book without them!
And the symmetry of the novel is almost poetic. The most obvious is that the song “Umbrella” is played at both Barry’s funeral and Krystal’s, and that Krystal does not attend Barry’s funeral and the children of Barry do not attend Krystal’s (as Mary disliked Krystal and dislikes that her grave will be near Barry’s). But there is more than that. The novel begins with a casual vacancy in a literal sense, and ends with a casual vacancy in a literal sense (though not in the final chapter). It also begins with a casual vacancy in the legal sense and ends with a casual vacancy in the legal sense, in the form of Dr. Jawanda’s resignation from the Parish Council.
It will be interesting to see what place this book has in history. Will it, in time, be remembered as a classic, genius work of literature, or as a mistake, an ungodly blemish on an otherwise dignified career? (Of course, the answer will be zilch if the Mayans’ forecast comes true at midnight!) And will my blog be discovered again? What shall become of it in history?
With these words, this blog is complete. To Daniel and any Internet dwellers lurking out in the darkness who dare not speak their name, I bid you farewell. I hope you enjoyed taking this trip with me.