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I recently read J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. An issue I have with it is that I couldn't see a clear climax. It just felt like a bunch of unhappy people making everyone around them unhappy.

Could someone point it out to me?

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There is no climax: this is likely intentional

Rowling's early life was difficult. Her mother suffered from illness and she had an awkward relationship with her father. She longed to leave home for the big city. She then went on to suffer poverty and stigma as a single parent living in Scotland. These experiences have left her with strong beliefs about politics and society.

Many of these beliefs and experiences find a voice in The Casual Vacancy. Andrew's character and desires mirror aspects of her early home life. The Weedon family offer a realistic, if grim, example of life on the worst British council estates. Many of the middle class characters are preachy and uncaring, an attitude one can find exemplified in popular newspapers like the Daily Mail. Her desire, clearly, was to create an unflinching portrayal of everything she saw as wrong with British society. The Guardian has referred to the book as "a parable of national politics".

Rowling herself has stated that she sees many of these problems as stemming from the judgemental nature of British politics and journalism. She has described British society as "phenomenally snobby" and the middle classes in particular as "pretentious". She has also said, in connection with The Casual Vacancy:

"I'm interested in that drive, that rush to judgment, that is so prevalent in our society, We all know that pleasurable rush that comes from condemning, and in the short term it's quite a satisfying thing to do, isn't it?"

And:

"This is a book about responsibility. In the minor sense—how responsible we are for our own personal happiness, and where we find ourselves in life—but in the macro sense also, of course: how responsible we are for the poor, the disadvantaged, other people’s misery."

It is worth noting that the working title of the novel was "Responsibility".

(Minor spoilers follow)

How, then, does this tie in to the lack of a firm ending? The tragedy that culminates the novel stems from the judgements made against the Weedon family: with more support, Crystal would not be left desperate for love and affection, nor in charge of her little brother. But the ultimate failure is one of responsibility: society has failed in its responsibility for the Weedons, and Crystal herself has failed her personal responsibility for her sibling.

The message Rowling wants to send, then, is that failing responsibility results in tragedy. She wants this message to be bleak and unflinching so as to mirror her own experiences at the sharp end of British society. She is unwilling to offer the reader easy answers to hard questions.

All of these things are achieved by the open-ended, unsatisfying nature of the ending: by failing to provide a hard climax she is telling her reader that these squalid tales and tragedies will continue, until people and politicians finally start to live up to their responsibilities.

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  • You mention "the tragedy that culminates the novel". Why is that not a climax? – Peter Shor Apr 21 '17 at 1:15
  • @PeterShor It's strongly telegraphed to the reader before it happens. In the scene in question, there's little tension, merely sadness as the inevitable approaches. – Matt Thrower Apr 24 '17 at 8:14
  • Not just that tragedy, but also the earlier tragedy. I certainly didn't see the earlier one coming. – Peter Shor Apr 24 '17 at 16:13
  • This seems like a good analysis of the novel, but I'm reluctant to upvote it because I'm struggling to see how it addresses the question asked, except very indirectly. Could you perhaps edit to emphasise more the connection between your analysis and the issue of climax? – Rand al'Thor May 31 '17 at 23:13
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    @Randal'Thor IDK. The answer is based on the ending of the novel being the "climax" that the OP felt was lacking. However PeterShor reminded me that there is another potential dramatic climax. If that's what the OP meant then one could argue there is a climax. So it kind of depends on how the OP defines "climax". Either way, I'm not sure how editing the answer improves the situation. – Matt Thrower Jun 1 '17 at 8:10

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