Archives for posts with tag: casual vacancy

In the final analysis, The Casual Vacancy was constructed so that when three characters walk past a small, unaccompanied boy who is wandering between a dangerous river and a road, we understand why none of them stopped to ask him why he was alone, or take charge of him. I chose each of these characters carefully.

Gavin represents the utter apathy for which it is necessary (in the famous quotation) for evil to flourish. He cannot even remember seeing Robbie Weedon after he hears that he has drowned, nor is he troubled by the thought that he must have walked very close to the boy during his final moments.

Samantha represents the rush of everyday troubles that prevents basically well-intentioned people from concentrating on matters that do not directly concern them. She subsequently admits to having seen Robbie and feels deep remorse at not having acted. Samantha is also honest enough to acknowledge to herself that Robbie’s appearance made her less likely to help him.

Shirley represents a degree of unkindness that stems from her own basic insecurity, because her background is not so very far removed from the Weedons. I think it is very common for such people to be among the most critical and judgmental. She – not Howard – is Barry Fairbrother’s true opposite in the novel. Denying her roots and castigating those who remind her of them, she is the negative image of the man who admits where he came from and goes back to try and help others. Shirley not only sees Robbie and ignores him as she grapples with her own problems, she feels no remorse afterwards, merely heaping blame on others for the child’s death.

An interesting question is whether Howard would have stopped to help Robbie. I’d be fascinated to know what readers think, but I’m sure he would have done. Howard is a happy man, which makes a difference; happy people are often kinder than the unhappy.”

– J.K. Rowling, on July 25 2013

The ending is the conceit. The ending defines all that came before. The ending is whether everything is tied into a neat little bow and we are invited to marvel at how perfectly all the disparate elements have come together. The ending of this particular work is so important, in fact, that it seems almost pointless to even discuss any of the events that are featured in this final adaptation prior. This may seem like a bizarre statement to make, since the events leading up to the climax of any work are generally what allows it to flourish, not to mention come into existence in the first place, but so little of the original book that contributed to the events you know, actually mattering has been retained that it seems more fitting to simply recap everything that pads out the first 40 minutes, and then move on to discussing what’s really important: the climax.

It opens the same way they all open: we get peaceful shots of the Pagford countryside, with endless footage of Vikram jogging, which is supposed to be important for reasons that will only be revealed later. Tessa is demeaning Colin for hyperventilating on the day of the election, because here she’s a horrible wife and Colin doesn’t have OCD to provide context for any of this. Also, when Fats taunts his stepfather, Tessa asks “Do you believe in anything, Stuart?” to which he replies, “I put all my faith in doritos.”

Huh, I thought Fats believed in this:

The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as Fats could see, was being ashamed of what they were; lying about it, trying to be somebody else. Honesty was Fats’ currency, his weapon and defense. It frightened people when you were honest, it shocked them. Other people, Fats had discovered, were mired in embarrassment and pretense, terrified that their truths might leak out, but Fats was attracted by rawness, by everything that was ugly but honest, by the dirty things about which the likes of his father felt humiliated and disgusted. Fats thought a lot about messiahs and pariahs; about men labeled mad or criminal; noble misfits shunned by the sleepy masses.

It’s almost as if Sarah Phelps is willfully disposing of the brief bits about “authenticity” being thrown about by Fats and Krystal and admitting his character has no meaning anymore.

They also appear to be throwing in the “wives at war with their husbands” card at random now. Dr. Jawanda and Vikram are now bitterly angry at each other out of nowhere, presumably because of Dr. Jawanda’s outburst at Howard, but she’s the one suspended, it doesn’t affect Vikram at all, and she accuses him of having no code of ethics, which makes absolutely no sense and is irrelevant to anything.

Shortly after this Mary unloads her anger against her dead husband on Colin. This illustrates Barry’s failings as opposed to his virtues, at least, but Mary also says, “Everyone grows up next door to someone. It doesn’t mean you have to look after them for the rest of their bloodsucking lives,” which puts BARRY FAIRBROTHER’S OWN WIDOW IN DIRECT FUCKING AGREEMENT WITH THE GODDAMN MOLLISONS. So instead of this being a case of Barry’s human faults in not being able to keep his attentions everywhere, it turns all the way to “OMG BARRY WHAT IS YOUR TASTES.” She also exhibits borderline insane paranoia by repeatedly insisting that Barry’s passion for keeping Sweetlove House open directly led to his aneurysm and telling Colin the exact same thing will happen to him. Which means Colin is forced to actually be the voice of reason and convince her otherwise…. and everything is specifically designed to be the exact opposite of the book which is a shame because the book actually had solid coherent characterization so now you have the exact opposite of that. why must i keep writing after that ugh.

On the Mollison side of things, pointless conflict between Samantha and Shirley occurs when Shirley searches the former’s computer history to find evidence of her being the Ghost and provokes her further by taunting her for being an alcoholic and encouraging her children to turn against her.

We do get some more flashbacks of Barry trying to help Krystal and Robbie out, which are nice and show the positive effect he had on their lives. There’s also a strange scene added where Krystal and Terri have a brief bonding experience sitting outside after Krystal and Fats have apparently broken up.

Yes, you read that right. Because apparently we need to ruin everything about the original work, Andrew and Fats’ friendship doesn’t dissolve just because Andrew is a fairly normal teenager who actually has some morals – no, it breaks up because as Fats says when he confronts Andrew outside Howard’s deli, “you always said that no female would come between us as mates” and admits that his relationship with Krystal is purely sexual. So instead of a platonic friendship between two males naturally breaking off, we have instead the most blatantly homoerotic relationship since Batman and Robin. Well done, Sarah Phelps. Bravo.

Krystal and Fats break up because Krystal realizes this and asks Fats “What’s wrong with him having a girlfriend?” But this is actually a good thing, isn’t it? Because now how will the ending come about if Krystal has nowhere to go and no boyfriend to fool around with to get her and Robbie away from the rape, prostitution, and drug abuse that constitutes their abusive, dysfunctional home life?

I’m going to leave that question open for now because GUESS WHAT IT’S ELECTION TIME. Fats is smoking marijuana outside the building where the voting is being held, and offering it to the voters who go in, while being quick to remind them who his parent is. Because he wants to get himself thrown in jail, I guess. Except that instead of calling the police or complaining to someone inside, the upper-class of Pagford huff and puff and mutter “Disgraceful” under their breaths as they come inside. Because we have literally turned into a cartoon, I’m surprised Colin doesn’t run out at this point and chase his son while the Benny Hill music plays. Except that Colin should actually be clapping his son on the back yelling “Good job” because he ACTUALLY CHOOSES TO VOTE FOR MILES.

I feel like I have to add at this point to all the readers who live in countries without access to this miniseries that I am literally not making that up. You heard me. Instead of the wonderfully triumphant scene where Kay comes to Colin’s house and encourages him to go off giddy as schoolchildren to vote for him, Colin willingly chooses to vote for his competitor. We do at least get the glorious shot of Samantha marking “You’re all wankers” on the ballot and tossing it in the box at any rate, but that only highlights the fact that Colin should be doing that. It honestly makes no sense. Barry was supposed to be this grand inspiring figure from beyond the grave. It’s bad enough his widow doesn’t even support what he fought for, but now COLIN IS VOTING FOR THE PERSON WHOSE MAIN PARTY PLATFORM IS “I OPPOSE EVERYTHING BARRY FAIRBROTHER WANTED TO PASS”. The whole reason Colin ran was because he didn’t want Barry’s legacy to “go up in smoke”! If he doesn’t believe in himself, then why not WALK AWAY QUIETLY WITHOUT VOTING AT ALL. Did you even consider that, Colin? Holy Jesus Christ.

Matters are made infinitely worse by the fact that Colin literally ends up voting himself out of office. Yes, tell me how likely the outcome of an election is that a wacky school principal would ever come one vote away from a member of the Kennedys being elected (especially when said potential parish councilor’s son and influence on the kids you enrolled in his school is smoking weed right outside). Do please go on.

Following that, we get some more strange changes: Rather than getting fired for his illegal practices, Simon bizarrely gets promoted to management where he can lay off other people (this is the company’s response to hearing him being slandered online for theft?????????) and Samantha leaves Miles with a note.

So that all leads up to Howard’s birthday party. I used 4 bullet points to describe what happened there in the book. Here, I can use 3:

  1. Fats shows up and tries to apologize to Andrew. Gaia encourages them to hug and make up, so they do. It doesn’t matter, though, because they actually keep Fats and Gaia kissing (this time, while high and drunk) and subsequently breaking away so Gaia can throw up, of course. This last part doesn’t really matter, though, because it comes after Andrew catches them and is so furious he literally just smashes a perfectly good bottle of wine for no reason at all.
  2. Shirley and Howard congratulate Miles on winning the election, and assure him he can do much better remarrying someone else. Earlier we had a scene where Miles whined and complained about one of his posters being vandalized, but now he just stares and reacts to all that’s going on around him, well aware of how little a role he really played in all this as an actual personality. However, we do get a scene after this that’s actually fairly shocking and at least well-acted. It’s the only thing I can actually come close to liking in the whole hour. Samantha actually comes back and confronts Shirley for trying to turn the family against her, telling her she won’t go along with her game. (Hurray, a character decision/narrative development that actually makes sense!) And Shirley’s response is shocking. She brings up the fact that Samantha apparently was not providing for her children when she was born because she was “very ill” (perhaps an alcoholic?) and Shirley had to step in. Shirley insists that the children don’t love Samantha and blames her for that, encouraging her to leave them. But Miles has actually witnessed this whole conversation, apparently. To be honest, I was hoping for a lot more. I was hoping this would be the moment Miles finally stepped up and did something. Samantha did most of the work already, though, but he does take Samantha away carefully, and cow his mother into submission by not backing down and saying just this: “Aubrey and Julia Sweetlove. You do know they’re not coming. Don’t you?” The implication being that she doesn’t have the social clout and isn’t nearly as admired as she thinks she is, and that she perhaps isn’t any more important than him in the grand scheme, something only Samantha could admit in the book. It’s a little step for a man of 43, but it sows the seeds for him really standing up for himself. I have to admit, this is one of the few additions I really enjoyed. It still seems like a bit too little, too late, though. But Samantha and Miles getting back together was something that never really fit or made sense to me in the book, either, so I won’t get into that.
  3. Add to the list of missing characters: Patricia “Black Sheep Lezzy” Mollison. Which is a bit strange, considering the BBC doesn’t mind gay alien couple smooching on Doctor Who. But this isn’t a change that matters much, though, because Andrew catches Howard and Maureen fooling around himself now (although the book implied this mainly went on in the past), and he records them on his phone.

So now, the seeds have all been sown for the finale. Let’s discuss what’s really important. I quoted Rowling’s explanation of her ending at the opening of my review. Here’s her admirable literary adapter’s, in the interest of fairness:
I was very straight with Jo and told her that I needed to write a different ending. It’s still heartbreaking, but I had to find some kind of redemptive moment at the end of it all, that sense that after the tragedy, someone gets to stand with a slightly straighter back.
Also, what works in a novel doesn’t always work on screen. Nobody wants a finger wagged in their face, and I learnt on EastEnders that if you just go ‘grim, grim, grim’, viewers will simply disengage.
If you’ve invested three hours of your leisure time to watch a show and get involved, there’s got to be reward. You’ve got to think that it was worth it and that the characters aren’t just a pack of s—s; they’ve got to be a little bit funny, a little bit understandable.”

So what are we left with, then?

Well, Kay was re-assigned as the Weedons’ social worker, and they are being forced to relocate to Yarvil. Obbo does not rape Krystal in this version, however. Krystal comes home to find Terri partying with her junkie friends, on the verge of smoking crack cocaine while telling her to loosen up. Obbo is there, out of prison, and he chases Krystal to her bedroom, but she manages to get away from him. He just warns her she’ll have to talk to him eventually, “because the thing is, Krystal, you’ve got nowhere else to go.” So I will give them credit for one thing: it’s clear how trapped Krystal is in her own life. Her hopes went out the window when Barry died, that much is clear.

But what I can’t forgive is what they build off of this. Krystal leaves with Robbie first thing in the morning, and since she and Fats are broken up now, instead of fucking him, she tries to put her plan from the book into effect but in the form of going to the Cubby Hole (where Fats just happens to be by sheer chance) and claims she’s pregnant and needs the house from his parents. Since that would all go down the drain once no baby turns up, it seems likely Krystal is actually supposed to be pregnant in reality. She doesn’t give any signs of it, so this is just confusing and stupid right off the bat. From there, it gets worse.

Fats responds the way you would expect, so Krystal goes to check on Robbie. However, he hasn’t actually gone in the water, at all, but Krystal sees his shoe in the river and jumps in to find him. She gets tangled in the wires of the computer Andrew and Simon threw in, and drowns. Robbie is found by Vikram and taken safely away. Andrew and Simon are randomly driving by for no reason, and they get out and realize what happened. So Simon (ONE OF TWO CHARACTERS SPECIFICALLY LABELED BY ROWLING AS “COMPLETELY BEYOND REDEMPTION”) gazes upon the consequences of his actions and feels genuine remorse and shock.

As for the Mollison front, it might as well be a soap opera akin to the one our writer so diligently worked on for the better part of a decade and more in the past, as Shirley dramatically confronts Howard looking like a possessed witch as she shows him the visual evidence of his adultery against her while he collapses of a heart attack, demonic music playing in the background as if it is beckoning them all to the gates of Lucifer himself. Then we are left with one last pointless scene, where it is clear Howard has survived in good health as opposed to the book’s ambiguity as to whether he would ever be able to leave. Which would make for a good tying up of his narrative arc here, but instead he sees the grim reaper one last time, because apparently Sarah Phelps thinks most people in hospitals who’ve just suffered heart attacks don’t. It goes to show he’s such a happy man who would have stepped in and saved the day, too.

Sukhvinder has been left with no narrative purpose at all, so rather than being a fitting climax to a character’s dramatic arc, we have one character we never paid attention to in the first place stepping in like the classic deux ex machina to save a person’s life because it would be really really sad if he didn’t do that, not because it has anything to do with what we know about him as a character in the past. It would just be too upsetting to watch people act the way we expect them to on Sunday afternoon BBC telly.

No voice for the raped, no voice for the self-abusive, no voice for the children who died before they were even able to become teenagers.

So what are we left with, at the end of all this? Krystal Weedon did not die as a decision to join her brother in the afterlife, trapped in the heroin-filled den of misery she tried to escape, as a culmination of her failed attempts to make life worthwhile for them both. She died away from all that due to a stupid freak accident that could have been avoided because despite supposedly loving her brother she didn’t bring him in the Cubby Hole with her for absolutely no reason. Fats being berated by Tessa and comforted by Colin is retained at least, but it doesn’t make any sense since he couldn’t have even known Robbie was there in the first place. There are no 3 people walking by to make us question the apathy of the human condition. According to Dr. Jawanda, “Anyone would have done the same.” So we have nothing to contemplate, nothing to make us question how things could have gone differently. What we are left with is 3 hours of our lives sucked away to watch, in the words of Shakespeare, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

And why? Because, by the admission of the writer who wrote all this, it would be challenging to the viewers to make them question their own lives and make them so angry at what they’ve seen on screen that they think about why 2 innocent children died in the hopes they could make a difference in their own community. It was only Colin’s fault he didn’t get elected to keep the addiction clinic open and a good person stepped in to save a 3-year-old’s life, when the novel already gave us the kindly empathetic dog-walker who stepped in to act, long after it was too late.

Norman Lear wrote in his book Even This I Get to Experience“Wait a second. Who said the comedies that preceded All in the Family had no point of view? The overwhelming majority of them were about families whose biggest problem was ‘The roast is ruined and the boss is coming to dinner!’ Or ‘Mother dented the fender and how is she going to tell Father?’ Talk about messaging! For twenty years-until AITF came along-TV comedy was telling us there was no hunger in America, we had no racial discrimination, there was no unemployment or inflation, no war, no drugs, and the citizenry was happy with whomever happened to be in the White House. Tell me that expressed no point of view!”

And he fought hard in 1971 against a whole network just to get one line of dialogue passed because of the precedent it would set, when only a few mainstream critics bothered to care at the time. Sarah Phelps chose to make people feel good about themselves and about all people in the world because it would be too risky to try to get away with something else on television in the year 2015. That would be scary. That would make her something close to an important writer who knew how to manipulate the medium she chose to work in to influence the masses in ways she couldn’t manage to when she was writing her soap opera for 14 years. That would be too much work and too much at stake.

The last glimpse we get into the world of Pagford is a happy couple moving into the peaceful community, being told they’re “Pagford people” by the realtor. This is fitting, because it signifies that in 3 hours, the story ultimately never got past the main premise: “Behind the pretty facade, however, is a town at war….. Pagford is not what it first seems.” Phelps seems to think a 16-year-old boy having the girl he has a schoolboy crush on smile and sit next to him on the bus while the “Glory Hallelujah” choir plays as if it’s the second coming of Christ somehow makes that all easier to handle, though, so there you go.

Fuck you, Sarah Phelps. And fuck you to the BBC. You took God knows how much of my life that could have been better used and obligated me to spend it watching, rewatching, taking notes on, writing about, television not worth the name, just to compose rants that only a handful of people on the Internet will ever care about at best, but are still ultimately more thoughtful, passionate, and driven that anything you could ever hope to produce.

Markus Zusak, you’re looking better every day.


I should begin this review by listing off my expectations. First of all, I understand completely that The Casual Vacancy is obviously not a book which is easily adapted. I mean, I don’t believe any work is particularly easy to adapt, but The Casual Vacancy is especially so for four main reasons:

The conflict is very low-stakes. The target audience for the Harry Potter books is unlikely to be deeply involved in the result of a parish council election to determine the fate of an addiction clinic and a housing estate.
It is only at the end we discover what the story was really about, with the tragedy of Krystal and Robbie’s deaths.
It is a very realistic story, with a large cast of characters whose names and how they relate to each other can be difficult to memorize.
In addition, they are three-dimensional, but usually not very likable.

To be frank, I had a feeling I was going to be deeply disappointed by this mini-series. Many people were disappointed by the book, I am well aware of that. They found it difficult to bond with the characters. I personally managed it due to a combination of Rowling’s compelling writing style and her personal talent for creating memorable characters.

So I will say one thing: in a film, this project might well border on near disastrous, but in a 3-part miniseries there is potential for this exercise to prove effective.

So, without further ado, let us discuss the first part!

I will say that I love the way the show opens off. We get shots of the beautiful English countryside, then join Andrew and his brother riding through the streets of Pagford, which in general comes across as the calmest, most pleasant and idyllic small

English town one could find.

What we get after that I will admit had me annoyed to an extent. We’re introduced to Barry Fairbrother – played by Rory Kinnear. He wakes up early in the morning, and hobbles to his bathroom mirror, and we get a laughably over-the-top bit, as the glass in the mirror appears to refract and crack, then we get an actual glimpse of Barry’s face in the mirror turning to a skull as he apparently suffers his fatal brain aneurysm and falls to the floor.

I can’t imagine how you would even respond to this if you hadn’t read the book, first of all. It’s so cartoonish it took me out of the mood entirely, and the most bizarre part of all is that Barry doesn’t even die here. (The skull is repeated as a reflection in Barry’s car leading up to his inevitable collapse in the parking lot, along with the refracted light and images reflecting his POV.) The scene where he does die is appropriately dramatic, though, with Mary’s panic and Barry vomiting onto himself, though it is confusing why the image flickers and is distorted at this point when it obviously is not reflecting anyone’s POV.

I suppose the idea is to obviously rectify the one complaint all the haters had and many of the lovers admitted: The only likable character dies in the first 3 pages. So here, Barry doesn’t die until 25 minutes in. Whereas in the novel his character was explored largely in flashbacks and through what we were told of him after the fact, here he is made greatly endearing to the audience as those

25 minutes are devoted primarily to establishing what a saint Barry is and how loathsome and classist the Mollisons are by contrast.

In one particularly memorable scene, Barry dramatically stands up and defends Yarvil’s misunderstood drug addicts before the parish council in what I will admit is a well acted passionate speech in which he even uses language in a church and compares the anti-Fields agenda to Nazi-era fascism!

I’m being vague on what that case is, because…. well, let’s just say
from here, the changes to the source material just keep on coming, and don’t let up for the full hour. I’ll just attempt to summarize the most important:
Here, the conflict to offload the Fields housing estate onto Yarvil is replaced with an attempt to close a community center that was left for the children of Yarvil by Aubrey Fawley (in the 1800s according to a plaque, as opposed to the book setting his lifespan in the 1950s). It will then be converted into a spa, if the bill backed by the Mollisons is passed.

Barry Fairbrother works with Miles at his law firm and is Simon’s half-brother.

There is no mention of Barry serving as a rowing instructor to Krystal. Instead, his connection to the Weedons is through a relationship with Terri. We see him bail her out of jail and drive her home, where it is clear she has had a history of being combative with him as she insults him, and Barry shrugs it off with an acknowledgement to her that she has done it before. This stands in direct contrast to the book, where on the few occasions Barry came to the house and interacted with Terri, he was one of the few people she grudgingly liked.

Here, Colin does not announce Barry’s death to a school assembly. Krystal sees him crying in the hallway, and actually taunts him. This is an especially noticeable change because it results in her getting in trouble for a legitimate reason. It is then Tessa who subsequently informs her that Barry has died.

Tessa is actually open to Dr. Jawanda about her belief that Colin is

not mentally fit enough for the strain of occupying the seat on the parish council.

The most significant change for me is that near the ending, Krystal actually goes out to a bar and finds Obbo where she confronts him on selling drugs to Terri, then has him arrested. It doesn’t quite make sense how, since she calls the police from the bar without offering physical evidence to his drug-dealing (this also endangers her mother).

I will note that I am only mentioning what I feel are the most significant changes. A more in depth list can be found on Wikipedia: (

But I am not a pedantic worshiper of a book who refuses to tolerate any changes when it is adapted to a new medium. The only thing I object to very strongly is when it is evident to me that some important aspect of the story has been excluded that renders a fault with the revised narrative.

The first change to the main conflict on the Parish Council was probably done to simplify the affair and make it more relatable to American audiences. The addition of a spa being proposed as a substitution is likely there to make it easier to take the side against the anti-Fielders when it is clear their vote is also towards something that would provide simple pleasure and hedonism for them personally. (The adverse effect of the removal of the addiction clinic from other people’s lives still withstanding.)

So clearly the conflict has been simplified to a degree, but this is not necessarily a bad thing if it makes the already on-the-nose class themes more interesting. Frankly I think I will reserve judgment on this change, and see how it pans out.

The majority of the remaining significant changes relate to strengthening Barry’s relationships with prominent characters in the book. A lot of time is spent here on Barry’s suspicions that Simon is abusing his children, for example, which does help us know that this treatment is recurring and has been going on for quite a long time (the frequent flashbacks let us know this in the book). He also offers Andrew a summer job which could likely be an attempt to set up his career at Howard’s deli.

The only area truly weakened by these changes is Barry’s relationship with Krystal. I’m a bit puzzled as to why (presumably) the writer of this miniseries, Sarah Phelps, would decide to make this change, when it distances him from Krystal who is still the defining prominent character here just as she was in the book.

There is, of course, no mention of her rowing here, then, which served a lot to make her relatable, but she is certainly made a more aggressive character here through the changes I have previously related. She was obviously assertive in the book, but they make her far more willing to follow through with that here in being confrontational at the drop of a penny. She is even introduced flouting the rules against wearing a school uniform, purely to express minor rebellion through individual expression.

As to the change in Tessa’s characterization, I am not sure I like that either. It seemed clear reading the book that she was aware of her husband’s limitations and mental state, but also sympathetic. Her natural impulse seemed to be to offer comfort and protect him from other’s scorn at whatever cost. Their marriage was probably the most genuine and strong in the book, in fact, simply due to the extent of unbridled acceptance Tessa had for Colin.

But from there, I will move on to a discussion of the acting, and how that affects the characterization, along with more discussion of the writing aspect.

Interestingly enough, the only truly notable actors in the cast (at least to me) are Rory Kinnear, Julia McKenzie and Michael Gambon.

Considering the latter two actors are well known for playing Miss Marple and Albus Dumbledore, they might not be likely to do well as the stuck-up, largely unlikable Howard and Shirley Mollison (though it’s obvious why Gambon was chosen). They personify the parts very well, in my opinion, though. Gambon’s performance as Dumbledore was flawed mostly because he was a bit too loud and authoritative in a way that appeared stuck up and brash. Here, that works marvelously for Howard. You can basically sense the privilege and need to present a dignified appearance oozing off of both of them.

Kinnear plays Barry Fairbrother fairly well. He comes off as an everyman who has natural compassion and self-deprecation in regards to his own faults. He plays the aforementioned dramatic speech very well. One aspect of the writing that was significantly weakened in the face of his early collapse is that he simply shrugs it off in conservation with Tessa as the result of a hangover he suffered from drinking several beers the night before.

In the original book, Simon was demonized for taunting Barry over not looking after his health better, when Rowling’s idea obviously was that people wish to deny the reality of their own mortality and that death will come to them as well as other people. Here Barry had strong reason to suspect something was wrong with him and should have gotten medical help, just as Simon believed.

Samantha is played marvelously by Keely Hawes, however. Right from her first scene, it’s clear she epitomizes the discontentment and contempt with her life, husband, in-laws, and the entire community she resided in that largely defines the character. After being told early on by Miles that Howard and Shirley are furious with Barry, she offers this flawless rant: “I’ll buy him a drink. Fuck it, I’ll buy him his dinner, 3 courses and cheese, might even give him a hand job.” Miles is portrayed by Rufus Jones and written rather indifferently, though, as simply a put-upon bumbling, ineffectual clod.

Lolita Chakrabarti, Monica Dolan, and Simon McBurney’s performances as Dr. Jawanda, Tessa, and Colin are simply adequate, however. McBurney fails to come across as adequately vulnerable and insecure enough to play Colin, actually. The contrast between their parenting is shown on display very well, though, as Colin actually smells Fats smoking marijuana in his room at bedtime and has to be talked out of confronting him by Tessa, ever unwilling to put her foot down as a surrogate mother.

We also see very little of Sukhvinder at all. Her mother calls attention to her as quiet and doing very little to join others unless she is told to, and from that point she is mostly a silent observer in a few scenes. I doubt one would ever suspect her important role in the climax from this, and one wonders whether the storyline with her self-harm will be included in the next part.

The scene where Kay arrives at the Weedons’ house and becomes concerned at the obviously unsanitary conditions for Robbie and Terri too worn out from heroin on the couch to answer the door is played for appropriate drama and tension. Her dysfunctional, combative relationship with her daughter is very clear.

And that brings me to Abigail Lawrie’s performance as Krystal Weedon. She is, quite frankly, remarkable, dominating the screen from the offset and making it clear she is someone who is living a life she hates and should not be messed with. I couldn’t take my eyes away in her every scene.

Kay is played as a professional by Michele Austin, and is made more sympathetic in a scene where her superiors shame her basically for caring at all.

As for Andrew and Simon, Andrew is portrayed well by Joe Hurst as a lanky, average teenage boy who comes across as likable in comparison to his friend. Richard Glover makes it clear Simon is an asshole, that is for sure. From the moment we see him stomp out of his car with his shaved head, slump of his shoulders and perpetual glare, we know he’s someone to stay away from, and his subsequent acts of damaging his son’s bicycle to prove a point and emotional abuse of them merely hammer that in. He’s actually underplayed in comparison to the book, though. It always comes off as a performance, never as a naturally unpleasant, conniving and self-serving man. He has better control of his temper here, definitely, and there is only one instance of physical abuse. This is against Andrew, and it does not last very long. In fact, it comes as a response to blunt provocation from Andrew, who tells him “Everyone knows you’re not Barry” in contrast to the book’s characterization of him as a pragmatic introvert who holds elaborate fights with his father in his mind but attempts to quietly placate him in real life.

But what I have been building up to here is the biggest issue I have with this whole production: largely this is inevitable owing to how multi-faceted the characters were in the original book and how much of their personality was fleshed out through flashbacks and internal monologue by Rowling, but the characters do come across mostly as imitations of their literary counterparts. There is a lack of emotional investment in them and a lack of real penetration to who they are – they rather come across as hollow imitations of themselves.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the portrayal of Fats. In the internal monologue Rowling gives him in the novel, we get a fascinating glimpse into a philosophy that, while flawed, still has basis in reality. We know he’s a pseudo-intellectual, but we know why, too. It feels natural, and he is a character who fascinated me right from the get-go. (So he did for other readers, as well, such as one commenter on Rowling’s Goodreads question who compared his philosophy to Alex’s in A Clockwork Orange

.) His rebellious streak and contempt for his parents is clear from his first scene where he opens the car door while moving, but this doesn’t provide much contrast with Andrew challenging his father, even though we know their differences eventually led them to drift apart.

So what more do we get from that to make it clear he’s more than your average angry teen rebel? Well, in a later scene, he starts a conversation with Gaia by saying “I cordially invite you to join me in contemplation of the infinite…. Those in my infinite circle call me Fats.” To his credit, Brian Vernel does deliver this dialogue without any trace of self-awareness, but without any sense of pride, either. It comes across as unnatural, and illustrates what this character writing is: a shallow imitation of characters only J.K. Rowling could write.

The rest of Fats’ time on-screen is devoted to his discussion about Andrew on his desire to have sex and a flat-out depressing imitation of his philosophical pondering with Andrew as they smoke in Simon’s shed (a bit of clever transplanting, since this is what got Andrew in trouble in the beginning of the book):

Fats: It just proves, you know, that it’s all sex and death. I mean, that’s all there is.
Andrew: And music.
Fats: Yeah, but mainly sex, because right when it comes, death, your last thought is never ever gonna be “I wish I’d done a little less shagging.” So we gotta live now.
Andrew: Yeah. Gotta live……

The reason I have quoted this in detail is because I want to compare it with the passage that is written in the book. It is lengthy, and this post is running long, but I feel I should quote it in its entirety:

“What matters, Arf?” asked Fats, after a long, dreamy pause.
His head swimming pleasantly, Andrew answered, “Sex.”
“Yeah,” said Fats, delighted. “Fucking. That’s what matters. Propun…propogating the species. Throw away the johnnies. Multiply.”
“Yeah,” said Andrew, laughing.
“And death,” said Fats. He had been taken aback by the reality of that coffin, and how little material lay between all the watching vultures and an actual corpse. He was not sorry that he had left before it disappeared into the ground. “Gotta be, hasn’t it? Death.”
“Yeah,” said Andrew, thinking of war and car crashes, and dying in blazes of speed and glory.
“Yeah,” said Fats. “Fucking and dying. That’s it, innit? Fucking and dying. That’s life.”
“Trying to get a fuck and trying not to die.”
“Or trying to die,” said Fats. “Some people. Risking it.”
“Yeah. Risking it.”
There was more silence, and their hiding place was cool and hazy.
“And music,” said Andrew quietly, watching the blue smoke hanging beneath the deep rock.
“Yeah,” said Fats, in the distance. “And music.”
The river rushed on past the Cubby Hole.

Many may wonder why I have such an infatuation for Mad Men, but in a recent interview I watched with the creator, he hit on exactly why, because he was capable of recognizing this fact: “I love the idea that all of these characters have a private life. There is a privacy there that I think you don’t get. It’s mostly ignored, it’s mostly ignored because it’s hard… it’s easier in a novel to get psychological like that. But in film it becomes something where people say, ‘What exactly are we watching?’ And you have to find a way to constantly physically express their feelings.”

And on the surface level that’s what the scene I just quoted appears to be, a verbal expression of emotions, hence physical. But notice we get a description of Andrew’s subconscious mind to understand where he is coming from as to where Fats is actually coming from, to inform what they are saying and determine the difference between the two.

They are both young, ignorant and naive. They have silly aspirations that will be forgotten as soon as they are achieved and they encounter the real “real life”, not the one of their fantasies, but in the show we get a vague impression that that is all they are. They are a mouthpiece for the writer to make a desired point, and once it has been made, we move on. What’s more, it comes after we have no idea of Fats’ philosophy, and see him only as a pretentious teenager. There is no idea that he might be on to anything at all, even ignorant, angry, and misguided. The scene appears as if it is intended to taunt them both, to make us roll our eyes at their frailty. The Time review of the show summed up Fats’ philosophy very well, however: “Fats, like so many adolescents, has grasped a truth and then made the mistake of believing it to be the whole truth.”

It is not possible to recognize that here with the information given, but even if everything was written perfectly, you have to rely on good acting, even that being subjective, to secure the desired emotional response, and notice how it is trimmed down to such a specific time frame, and it is not going at our pace. We watch it, we think briefly of what we are seeing, then it is over.

In the book, pauses are described. We are allowed to experience those pauses, visualize them, and let them live on for as long as we want. The scene achieves a poetry to it that is sorely missing when you can simply see the scene playing in front of you and realize it is just 2 teenagers with naive ideas about life, who fantasize about being adults, losing their virginity, or having done that, continuing to exploit sex as if it is the only thing that determines an emotional relationship, because they are not yet mature enough to have experienced that feeling. Because on a physical level, that may be true. But on the literary level, we focus on a meeting of the minds. They are only capable at this point of perceiving what happens on a physical level, not the emotional level underneath, or the reasons for that strange omnipresent force known as society, only that is there and they must rebel against it, though it barely cares.

What visual media such as television and movies do most of all is portray a sense of showmanship, and drama at what is clearly going on before our eyes. The ending here epitomizes that, closing with a dramatic monologue by Andrew as he announces himself as the Ghost of Barry Fairbrother on the Parish Council message board.

It’s an effective cliffhanger, definitely. But we are given no idea of his internal revenge plan against Simon, what he is planning to do with the blog, or why he feels the need to warn anyone ahead of time. It will definitely make the viewers at home yell, “Ooh, this boring old town is about to get INTERESTING!” but on an emotional level beyond simple thrills at cheap entertainment, in an attempt to relate the characters, I am afraid we are simply locked out.

There is certainly potential in Obbo coming out of prison and raping Krystal for more clear reasons most people can relate to, admittedly (though rapists obviously do commit the act out of a desire for power and control more often than a specific vendetta).

So what I am saying here is that I am trying to be sympathetic to the miniseries and understand what they are up against here. There is the necessary element of voyeurism – we feel we are watching a real community, and snooping around figuring out what is going on with these people in this town from the bits and pieces of conversations we get to see. It feels like something that could be happening in many towns all over the world, without us ever getting more than a vague impression of it, or its ripples.

I am interested in viewing the next two parts, because there is a foundation here. It may just take some time to see if it holds up with the people that have been placed inside.

Edit: Interestingly enough (and in addition to blatant spoilers for the changes made in adaptation), the trailer shows Simon responding to someone expressing sympathy for him having lost his brother (Barry) with “Don’t be. I fucking hated him.” At least in the HBO version, he says “We never really got on (and this line does not appear to be dubbed).” I doubt this was done for language, since the word “fuck” was heard on the show more than a few times. I can understand it getting a TV-14 despite this when it is broadcast on HBO, but for anyone who is qualified to answer: Is the BBC really allowed to broadcast language like that, and what are the censorship laws? Was the line cut for the BBC, along with others?

I know my reviews for The Casual Vacancy ended quite a while ago, but this is something I heard about long ago. The project was actually announced back in 2012, but I never mentioned it, primarily because Daniel discussed it here:

This could be expected given the success of the 8 Harry Potter films released to theaters, but The Casual Vacancy was already adapted into a mini-series.

It was broadcast in the United Kingdom on 3 parts premiering February 15, 2015. But seeing as how I don’t live in the U.K., I decided not to post about it then. I didn’t want to put it off for so long, but, well, that is what I do, isn’t it?

So I’ll make this brief: The miniseries will premiere on HBO tonight, the first part airing at 8:00 P.M. EST, and the second at 9:00.

I’m eager to see it since I don’t know how audiences (particularly American audiences) will respond to a book so grimly realistic as The Casual Vacancy. I’ll list some of my expectations to start off my review. For now, I’ll just say I’m interested to see how it plays out.

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.


Yes, we have reached the penultimate chapter, so to speak. I’m actually afraid to proceed, because we are so close to the end and everything is happening. I know that this part is likely going to be more of the same: unbridled excitement and madness. And I don’t want to see poor Terri fall apart. Or Krystal, for that matter. I don’t know how the prospect of reading about Howard dying makes me feel. I mean, I know he was a lying, cheating, selfish, power-hungry, all-around disgusting human being, but somehow I grew attached to him, I don’t know.

But I have to be professional. I have to finish this. So I will take a deep breath. And onward we go!


This part has the strangest, most confusing opening Local Council Administration excerpt in the entire book, hands down.

Weaknesses of Voluntary Bodies

22.23 …The main weaknesses of such bodies are that they are hard to launch, liable to disintegrate…

It had me completely baffled at first, so I googled “voluntary bodies” and while I couldn’t find an exact definition I have ascertained that it is a group established by a private minority of people, or something similar. So it likely refers to the social services group set up to help Robbie, but it sounds like a clever double-meaning, because the first thing it brings to mind is Sukhvinder jumping off the bridge.


Many, many times had Colin Wall imagined the police coming to his door. They arrived, at last, at dusk on Sunday evening: a woman and a man, not to arrest Colin, but to look for his son.

Rowling, you do not disappoint.

Surprisingly, Colin is the most calm about the situation. As Rowling puts it, “Colin had rehearsed for calamity all his life. He was ready.” It’s brilliant, really.

Isolated above the little town, no news of the calamities had yet reached Hilltop House. Andrew’s mobile rang in the kitchen.
“‘Lo,” he said, his mouth full of toast.
“Andy, it’s Tessa Wall. Is Stu with you?”
“No,” he said. “Sorry.”
But he was not at all sorry that Fats was not with him.

It shocked me how bad things have gotten between them. It’s very strange, considering they grew up friends and Fats admitted to himself that Andrew was the person he was closest with and wouldn’t be able to survive without him. But that seems to be his motivation for treating Andrew coldly: resentment for leaving him.

Rowling does a great job portraying Andrew’s feelings as he realizes where Fats is and that he needs to reveal it to Tessa: The Cubby Hole.

Seemingly, there isn’t much to the rest of this section. Tessa drives Andrew to the Cubby Hole, Andrew goes in and finds Fats, tells him that Robbie has died and calls to Tessa to tell her that he found him. But unlike Water for Elephants, where even during the climax when people were dying, I never felt the danger and anxiety because Gruen wrote it all in her typical bland lifeless style, and viewed the characters purely from the outside, here the panic, anxiety, and excitement in the realization that the book has reached its climax bleed through every sentence of the section and every character, and we feel it with them. It’s actually rather cinematic, though, in that we don’t need to know their feelings. We can practically see it in their every action, their every word. Indeed, the section plays out like a film at this point. We can see every bit of it in our mind’s eye.


The section opens with Sukhvinder at the house of the dog-walker who saved her. Her parents arrive, Dr. Jawanda so angry that she actually knocks over a table and smashes an ornament in the house, seemingly without thinking!

And again I spoke too soon in critiquing Rowling:

At the hospital, they made her undress again, but this time her mother was with her in the curtained cubicle, and she realized her mistake too late when she saw the expression of horror on Parminder’s face.
“My God,” she said, grabbing Sukhvinder’s forearm. “My God. What have you done to yourself?”
Sukhvinder had no words, so she allowed herself to subside into tears and uncontrollable shaking, and Vikram shouted at everyone, including Parminder, to leave her alone, but also to damn well hurry up, and that her cut needed cleaning and she needed stitches and sedatives and X-rays…

It seems that they believe that they are cuts from objects in the river, though.

In a brilliant touch, Vikram’s incredulous disgust at Miles for asking Dr. Jawanda to help Howard switches to Miles’ incredulous disgust at Dr. Jawanda for refusing to help Howard. So often in life people do believe the exact opposite things and state differing opinions as if they were cold fact that no one could dispute.

And the scene remains with them in the waiting room. Shirley’s emotions and worries are portrayed very well. The section is just full of the same character details and little details as the rest of the book, but I have to make a strong criticism about one thing: For most of the book, the characters react exactly how they would expect them to and their thoughts are exactly as you would expect them to, and this is the case for Shirley. But this is not the case for Sukhvinder. I wrote about how I thought that given her fantasies about drowning, Sukhvinder was jumping into the river believing she would die but in the way she wanted to and knowing that people would regard her as a heroine who died to save a young boy or die trying so it would be a dream come true for her. But Rowling never gave us those feelings from her. And if she only had, then the crushing sadness of the fact that absolutely no good was accomplished (when Sukhvinder is saved and Robbie is not) would be all the more apparent. It strongly disappoints me that this is not included, because it would have made the book so much more stronger. All the same, I cannot help but be impressed at how Rowling manipulates the audience with her writing: in every sentence, we feel the sadness and blunt acceptance and sheer finality that the panic and anxiety of the last section has given way to.

And she closes with the most dark, nihilistic, depressing writing I’ve ever seen, in which we are given a look at exactly who each of us really are: just a young body in a cupboard dead, just an old body being cut open on the operating table, alive, but what does it mean when the world is so fickle and flimsy as that?

In the theater upstairs, Howard Mollison’s body overflowed the edges of the operating table. His chest was wide open, revealing the ruins of Vikram Jawanda’s handiwork. Nineteen people labored to repair the damage, while the machines to which Howard was connected made soft implacable noises, confirming that he continued to live.
And far below, in the bowels of the hospital, Robbie Weedon’s body lay frozen and white in the morgue. Nobody had accompanied him to the hospital, and nobody had visited him in his metal drawer.

Alfred Hitchcock said, “I enjoy playing my audience like a piano”. Rowling is an absolute master at this.


Now the scene is with Tessa driving Fats home. Both of these characters’ emotions are depicted perfectly. This is the most emotional, subtle, best-written scene in the entire book. Fats is getting the consequences for his so-called “authentic” actions now. He wanted to go out and have underage sex with a girl and be cool, and now he has to deal with the agonizing guilt that he caused a 3-year-old boy to die because of that.

“So you ran away,” said Tessa coldly, over his tears.
She had prayed that she would find him alive, but her strongest emotion was disgust. His tears did not soften her. She was used to men’s tears. Part of her was ashamed that he had not, after all, thrown himself into the river.
“Krystal told the police that you and she were in the bushes. You just left him to his own devices, did you?”
Fats was speechless. He could not believe her cruelty. Did she not understand the desolation roaring inside him, the horror, the sense of contagion?

Readers may find her to be unbelievably cruel, and perhaps she is. But as she tells Fats the story of his birth the attentive reader realizes (once they have gotten over the more audience reactions to the revelations that he may be a product of incest or rape and that Colin attempted suicide shortly after they adopted Fats because he thought he had killed him) what emotions she is going through, how disillusioned and nihilistic she has become. She is disappointed with herself because she wanted so desperately to raise Fats and is deeply disappointed with how he turned out. She considers leaving him at the Fields to embrace his new life as a parent and to apologize to Krystal, but thinks over all her decisions in life and decides they’ve all been bad ones, Fats is a lost cause, so she just decides to drive him home.

Rowling doesn’t spell out these things. They’re left for the clever reader to discern and I enjoyed and appreciated that.


Very noticeably, all throughout the three previous sections, we were never given the slightest hint as to what had happened to Krystal after Robbie’s death. This section answers that question immediately.

The police had picked up Krystal Weedon at last as she ran hopelessly along the riverbank on the very edge of Pagford, still calling her brother in a cracked voice. … Krystal had not noticed Fats melting away into the trees; he did not exist to her anymore.

Very heart-rending. And the story stays with her as she is taken home by the police. Terri’s reaction to the police at her house and Robbie not being with Krystal is in-character and the whole thing is portrayed well.

But then the scene randomly changes to Kay and Gaia without even any random break. Compared to what else is happening in the story, their problems are of very little consequence and it’s near impossible to care at all. The only thing of note is Gaia’s utter selfishness and childishness, but even if they move there’s only one chapter left and their moving is nothing compared to what has happened in the story at this point. So it was a good move by Rowling to have the Weedons’ plot come in (via Tessa’s call, meaning the story isn’t in chronological order at this point).

And then she switches the scene back to the Weedons.

Neighbors were coming out onto their doorsteps, a fascinated audience to Terri’s meltdown. Somehow the cause of it was transmitted through the watchers, from Terri’s incoherent shouts and the attitudes of the ominous police.
“The boy’s dead,” they told each other. Nobody stepped forward to comfort or calm. Terri Weedon had no friends.

This would be very effective writing to illustrate how Terri has isolated herself in her mistrust for everyone, but it isn’t actually true. She did trust Obbo and Obbo is her friend at least in her mind and he would likely fill that role if he were there, so it really just goes to demonstrate her horrible judgment.

We then (with absolutely no warning at all) switch to Kay and Gaia getting in the car to go to the Weedons’ to see what they can do. This only lasts two paragraphs, and then the scene changes to a 3rd-person perspective of Krystal.

But by the time they had reached the bypass, Krystal had found what she was looking for: a bag of heroin concealed in the airing cupboard; the second of two that Obbo had given Terri in payment for Tessa Wall’s watch. She took it, with Terri’s works, into the bathroom, the only room that had a lock on the door.

At first it seems that Krystal is going to give the drugs to the police out of anger and depression because they caused her to leave with Robbie, but then it’s clear she’s using it herself.

Robbie was dead, and it was her fault. In trying to save him, she had killed him.

It’s true, but I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing that Rowling directly and acknowledges it. I know what I said about not acknowledging the tragedy of Sukhvinder, but actually seeing her do that with Krystal makes me wonder. On one hand, it would seem that it was just another missed opportunity at drama if she acted like it was not intentional and she did not notice, but seeing here we think that maybe she should have left the audience to notice it and say it themselves. But people could accuse them of over-analyzing and seeing things into it that she didn’t intend, so it really is a difficult dilemma for Rowling, and it leads me to believe that she did recognize the observations I made about Sukhvinder’s fate and this was her way of compromising. But maybe I’m just overthinking everything, I don’t know.

But back to the story. Krystal injects the heroin, and right up until the final sentence of the chapter it seems like this is just showing Krystal tragically turning to drugs, thus entering the world of depression and madness that her mother inhabits, because of the ultimate tragedy which Rowling has just acknowledged: In trying to prevent Robbie from being harmed and rescuing him from Terri’s world, she caused his death. So now it would seem she has given up, much like Tessa.

But then one reads the final sentence and realizes that it was entirely different, that we didn’t understand what was actually going on. She had turned to the heroin out of depression over the ultimate tragedy, but her solution was more extreme:

By the time Kay and Gaia arrived, and the police decided to force their way in, Krystal Weedon had achieved her only ambition: she had joined her brother where nobody could part them.

It was to escape the world of depression and madness that her mother inhabits, and she succeeded. And in doing so, she created yet another casual vacancy in this topsy-turvy, crazed rollercoaster we call life.

(One chapter left. I must be strong.)

After reading the sixth chapter of The House of Arden, I went out to the store to see the crowd that was doubtless assembled to buy J.K. Rowling’s new work of artistic genius. However, there was no crowd, no one was even paying attention to the book and it took me a while to even notice it, so I at first spent a lot of time considering whether I should cross the busy road to see the crowd at Jay & Mary’s, but I couldn’t find a good point, so I went home, first following a middle-aged Indian man across the pedestrian walk. He turned around and asked me something, and I said “What?” He said something in Hindi. I ran ahead of him and went home. Then I went back with my money to buy The Casual Vacancy, which I got with $20 and some cents in change.

It appears to be structured rather unusually. At first I thought it didn’t have any chapters, but it seems to, just organized in days of the week with breaks within these chapters themselves. (I hate when books do that. It’s so strange.)

J.K. Rowling begins by showing us the term “casual vacancy” defined in the Seventh Edition of the Local Council Administration. It’s structured almost too well to be real, ending with the case in which a councilor has died. And as Rowling has said, death is the casual vacancy, isn’t it?

Cedric was lying spread-eagled on the ground beside him. He was dead.
All the people who mocked “What’s casual about a vacancy?” are idiots. It’s a brilliant metaphor, just perfect.

The chapter is done much like the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, POV-wise. It starts out in the second-person POV of Barry, and then takes an outside view related to no POV, just like occurs after Frank Bryce’s death.

And Rowling establishes the “casual vacancy” so wonderfully that it becomes terrifying to imagine this happening to us. Barry Fairbrother is going through his daily life, worrying about his relationship with his wife and the article he’s sent in to the newspaper.  (Which is strange; I thought he was a councilman ???) He just has a minor headache in the back of his skull, nothing to worry about.

My one real complaint is that Rowling destroys the sudden shock we would have had by writing that Barry’s children “were watching television when he said good-bye to them for the last time“, and creating what is clearly a tragic moment in retrospect. I suppose Rowling’s logic was that people would already know Barry was going to die since she revealed it in the summary and interviews, but still, this chapter would be absolutely perfect if Barry’s death did come as a complete “casual vacancy” to us just as it does to the characters, without it being revealed to us through the prose beforehand. (This chapter, at least, is very similar to Kay Eiffel’s fictional novel, even down to the omniscient narrator prose which is just as annoying here as I imagined it would be there. Also, I always had the feeling Kay wouldn’t be able to create a whole book out of this in real life.)

But really that’s the one very, very important change I would make in this chapter. It’s done very, very well, and it creates such paranoia in us. What if our headaches turned out to be so, so much more serious? I think I’ve developed one now just worrying about it. We can almost hear the preacher from Pollyanna screaming, “DEATH COMES UNEXPECTEDLY!”

Then pain such as he had never experienced sliced through his brain like a demolition ball. He barely noticed the smarting of his knees as they smacked onto the cold tarmac; his skull was awash with fire and blood; the agony was excruciating beyond endurance, except that endure it he must, for oblivion was still a minute away.

Brilliant prose, but poor Barry. Why couldn’t he get a painless death like Cedric Diggory? Just imagine how much pain you would have to be in already not to notice the pain of your knees smashing into solid cement. Also, is this the first time she has ever shown us directly a dying character’s experience? The POV simply became the “omniscient narrator” when Frank died (which it does here, we aren’t actually let into Barry’s experience of actually dying, presumably because Rowling did not wish to offend either atheists or the religious community), and Cedric’s death was in Harry’s POV. (I haven’t read the final three Harry Potter books, though, but since they’re a second-person POV of Harry, I would assume we aren’t actually let in on the experience of anyone actually dying.
Just one more note: in England, the number of the police is 999? That’s so sensible, why don’t we have that over here? I’ve always wondered why the number isn’t 111, besides to create tension in countless horror movies, of course. (One drawback: That doesn’t work nearly as well in British horror movies, does it?)

Also, Barry died in his own vomit. I pray that we all shall receive such  dignified deaths.

Well, that’s it for now. Let me know in the comments what you thought of the first chapter of J.K. Rowling’s first adult novel (which isn’t too adult so far), The Casual Vacancy.

Hello, Blogger. Who am I? I am a bookworm who has been stuck reading numerous books at once for God knows how long, regrettably including not too long ago the dreadful Water for Elephants and Witch & Wizard (I will not be reading the sequels, I refuse to give that hack Patterson any of my money). And now I am reading 11/22/63, Roger Ebert’s biography Life Itself, and E Nesbit’s classic “The House of Arden”. Fortunately, I finished the second book of The Kane Chronicles shortly about an hour ago.

Fortunate because when I wake up (assuming I ever get to sleep) J.K. Rowling’s new novel, The Casual Vacancy, will be released. I’ve known about this book for a while now, I’ve been really curious about it. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, and now in just 4 days….. wow. I’m a Harry Potter fan, although I haven’t read the last three, and I’ve very excited about this. It’s the first book she’s written I’ll be able to read when it was first released. <chuckles> I know it’s an adult book, but hey, I’ve read worse things, and… every nine-year-old in the world is gonna read it, so why not? Heh heh.

Somebody on TV Tropes mocked how they couldn’t believe she was actually naming the new main charatcer Barry. Like, is the next one gonna be Gary? But if it says that he dies in the premise then I’ve got a feeling he isn’t the main character. <laughs> Of course knowing her, there are probably gonna be a lot more deaths, right, right? I mean, it’s even the title — The Casual Vacancy. She’s talked about the meaning of it, it’s a brilliant double meaning, the casual vacancy of the city council and how death itself is often a casual vacancy, it was for her mother, not really for me in my life, I mean, my great-grandfather died at like 96 and we knew it was coming for a while, but hey, there’s an exception to almost anything, am I right, am I right?

I’m one of the few people who actually like the cover. Yeah, it is 70s – but I like old-fashioned things. I don’t like modernity, and I don’t like things from this century. So I’m the last person in the world who’d complain about that. And I think it suits the complex adult sorta risque style that this book is going to be, the title goes in well on there, and – I am afraid that it might not be very good – J.K. Rowling herself is worried about that kinda reception – but hey, like I said, I’m a fan, and I’m gonna read it on opening day, no matter what it is. And I will see you on that day. Goodbye.