The Casual Vacancy: A NYT Best Selling Experiment

casual vacancyOkay, so it’s been awhile since my first NYT best seller review.

I have a valid reason for that, I promise. The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling’s newest novel, is in high demand.

I was on a waiting list at our local library for a good two months.

When it finally came and I had it in my hands, I was very eager to get started.

Let me remind you that both of these reviews are based solely off the first 50 pages. I can’t speak for the rest of the book.

A Review for Readers:

Video Cliffs Notes:

  • This story takes place in the small town of Pagford, England and follows a cast of characters, all reacting to the death of Barry Fairbrother, and the empty seat he leaves behind on the town’s council.
  • This is a very adult book. If you don’t like your fiction riddled with swear words or explicit sexual content, then you’ll want to avoid this one.
  • The main character is a dead guy. The story, at least the first 50 pages, chronicles various townsfolk and their reaction to his sudden death.
  • Definitely has the same feel as movies like Love Actually and New Years Eve, where there are a lot of characters that slowly start to connect. By page 50, I could start to see some of the connections, which was fun.
  • Didn’t really know what direction the story was headed until page 50.

A Review for Writers:

Video Cliffs Notes:

  • The story opens in what James Scott Bell refers to as media res – the middle of action, with characters in motion. 
  • JK Rowling’s prose are brilliant. Her descriptions are vivid and fresh.
  • Even though there are a lot of characters, she differentiates them by giving each one unique and memorable attributes.
  • Having a main character in which readers can identify with and root for is important.
  • Story structure, while not a rigid thing, keeps a story from feeling aimless.


thumbs down

This was a tough one. Originally, I thought I’d give it a thumbs sideways because I intended to finish it. But then I started a different book (hi Heather Sunseri!) and The Casual Vacancy was due at the library. I returned it unfinished and have no urge to put myself back on the waiting list.

Next book in the NYT best selling experiment?

Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks

Number one for 11 weeks in a row. And sheesh, I haven’t read a Nicholas Sparks book in, well…..ever.

Time to see what all the fuss is about.

Let’s Talk: Are you a Nicolas Sparks fan?

A new reader friend asked me five very fun questions on her blog. If you’ve ever wondered whether I cried while writing my debut novel, visit Back Porch Reflections!

13 thoughts on “The Casual Vacancy: A NYT Best Selling Experiment

  1. This is the 3-star review I wrote for The Casual Vacancy on Goodreads:

    “I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book after reading the good, the bad, and the ugly reviews. But I’m glad to say that I liked it. It’s by no means a happy book. When I finished, I closed the book and felt stunned because the ending is so tragic. However, it’s the kind of book that makes you think about the world and the people who live in it– all of us. Everything these characters went through, how they interact with each other, is what people all over the world experience. This book made me think about how we treat each other– our loved ones, our not-so-loved ones, our neighbors, strangers, outsiders. You just don’t know how someone could be suffering on the inside, when they’re alone, because of how they’re treated out there.

    “The plot is tame; it revolves around who will be running for the now-empty council seat and the issue of the Fields, which is basically a slum many of the Pagford residents do not like encroaching on their little village. So whoever wins the council seat will have major influence on this ‘problem.’ The powerful force in this novel is the characters, how they are influenced by Barry Fairbrother’s untimely death and how it effects their relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. Ultimately, Barry’s death impacts these characters’ lives and connections with each other more than they ever would’ve thought.

    “We all know this but it’s worth repeating: J.K. Rowling is a great, great writer. Her descriptions are vivid and how she develops her characters and writes dialogue is superb. She’s an inspiration for many people, and writers should especially take note. It’s courageous to write something completely different than what you became famous for; not all authors write outside their comfort zone. Good for her for continuing to develop her talent in new and different ways.

    “Rumor has it that J.K. Rowling has said her next book will be for children, and I’m excited about that! However, I sure hope she continues to write for adults, too, because this lady is one heck of a writer.”

    It’s not a book I’ll ever re-read, but I’m glad I read it once! When I first heard the description of this book months before it came out, I thought it was going to be a similar tone and style to the British film “Keeping Mum,” which is a dark comedy. I was disappointed that it wasn’t because I know Rowling would be terrific at dark comedies for adults. Perhaps she will write one some time!

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Haven’t read the whole thing, but based off the first 50 pages, I’d say that’s a really astute review! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Pattie

    I didn’t get into this novel either. And I think Nicholas Sparks’ writing is emotionally manipulative. Especially The Notebook, which you mentioned. Sorry!

    1. Katie Ganshert

      No need to apologize! I’d be curious to know what you mean by emotionally manipulative. What’s the difference b/w a book being emotional and a book being emotionally manipulative? Seriously curious! 🙂

      1. Pattie

        To me, it feels like he manipulates his readers into tears and depression. On purpose he will kill off characters to try and make the reader cry. I don’t know how else to describe it. It doesn’t flow naturally in the story. It seems contrived to me. I’ve also got to admit, I’ve become a very critical–almost to the point of cynical–reader when it comes to romance.

  3. Hi. It’s hard not to be a Sparksy fan. The guy just wins, wins, wins and then wins again just for good measure. I’ve sat through a bunch of the movies with my wife and have read a few of the books (Yes, reading Safe Haven now!). The guy endured so much tragedy in his personal life (hardscrabble childhood, then sister, mother, and father dying in sad ways) that it’s easy to see where the bittersweet and tug-at-heartstrings nature of his stories comes from. Also, you gotta respect how his simplistic, thumb-nose-at-“rules”-of-writing-and-mechanics style just sells books! Story trumps craft here. Ryan

    1. Katie Ganshert

      I didn’t now that about Sparks – about his personal life. You’re right – say what you will about his writing (I’ve heard lots of different things), the man knows how to write stories people are eager to buy.

  4. Hey, Katie,
    Enjoyed the reviews of Casual Vacancy …
    Love the fun you bring to your blog.
    Are you going to see the movie after you read the book Safe Haven?

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Sure am! In fact, that’s why I want to read it! I think the previews look really good, and this from a gal who isn’t a fan of Nicholas Sparks movies…..unless it’s starts with an N and ends in otebook. 🙂

  5. I like Nicholas Sparks. It’s been a while, though.

    Thanks for the mention! I’m only guessing here, but I’m willing to bet Mindspeak is a much, MUCH different read than The Casual Vacancy. 😉

    I’ve got one question though. Why didn’t you vlog this? I’ve been missing your vlogs. Sorry you didn’t like The Casual Vacancy. This book has gotten so much hype. Hmmm.

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Heather – that was SO bizarre! I included the videos yesterday when I put the post together and for some reason, they didn’t post this morning. I re-embedded them this morning and I hope they stay put! Can you see them now?

      1. Yes!! I totally can see them now. I so love your vlogs. I might have to pick up this book for the first 50 pages. I struggle with characterization, and I love it when an author truly differentiates her characters with unique traits. Might need to study J. K. Rowling a little.

        By the way, your hair has gotten so long. Nice! Good to see you!

      2. Katie Ganshert

        She’s brilliant at differentiating her characters and making them seem so….real. So yes – worth the study! If you end up finishing it, let me know what you thought!


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