The West Country & Council Estates: Background information when reading The Casual Vacancy

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Casual Vacancy

by J.K. (Joanne) Rowling

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. (Joanne) Rowling
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2012, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2013, 512 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The West Country & Council Estates

Print Review

J. K. Rowling grew up in England's West Country, which is an informal term used to embrace the southwestern part of England, the peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. The West Country doesn't have any rigid borders but generally includes the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset. A looser definition also includes all or parts of the counties of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

Chepstow Castle and BridgeRowling grew up in the towns of Winterbourne and Tutshill in Gloucestershire. She also spent some time in Chepstow, which is actually in Wales, with suburbs spilling across the boarder into neighboring Gloucestershire. Chepstow also boasts a castle plenty capable of firing up the imagination. These towns, like much of the rest of the West Country are an idyllic part of England known for rolling hills, country houses and picturesque scenery. While there is some debate about the exact setting for The Casual Vacancy, Rowling has found inspiration for much of her work from the area's small towns and villages. Rowling has said she has fond memories of playing by the River Wye, which is one of the longest rivers in the UK and flows right by Chepstow and Tutshill.

Much later in life, after a nasty divorce, Rowling lived on welfare benefits for a while. She has repeatedly championed the value of the welfare system in providing for the poor, a theme she writes about vividly in The Casual Vacancy. Even if she might not have lived in government-subsidized housing known as council estates in England, one such council estate is the basis for the novel.

The council homes (many of which together belong in an estate) have a long history in the UK. After the First World War, these estates were labeled 'homes for heroes', and shortly after the Second World War, were seen as an efficient way to dampen disease and overcrowding in cities and give the working classes a safe and relatively inexpensive place to live. While for many years, finding a home in a council estate was considered a move up, this housing (subsidized by local taxes) has actually curried increasing disfavor to the point where many estates are pointed out as hotbeds of poverty and decreased social mobility. Delineation of these housing units from private sector housing has had commentators wondering if council estates have become "social concentration camps."

Council House in South YorkshireWhile common perception might lead us to think of these council homes as cramped apartments in huge high-rises, council estates outside of city centers are more likely to look like the photo to the right.

Rowling, a strong believer in the role of government helping the needy, has made a point of saying that she intends to stay living in England, despite the country's relatively high taxes, because she knows that the British welfare system supported her when she needed it, and she now feels a responsibility to give back. She has also donated generously to many charities, including millions to multiple sclerosis research (a disease her mother died of), and set up a trust with an annual budget of millions to help women and children overcome poverty and social inequality.

Check out a wonderful BBC program about the evolution of subsidized housing.



Top photo by Roy Parkhouse; bottom photo by John Poyser

Article by Poornima Apte

This article was originally published in November 2012, and has been updated for the July 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Ghachar Ghochar
    by Vivek Shanbhag
    The Bengaluru (aka Bangalore) that has dominated economic news headlines over the past decade is the...
  • Book Jacket: Caught in the Revolution
    Caught in the Revolution
    by Helen Rappaport
    So taken were BookBrowse's First Impression reviewers by the inside look at the start of the Russian...
  • Book Jacket: Hillbilly Elegy
    Hillbilly Elegy
    by J.D. Vance
    In this illuminating memoir, Vance recounts his trajectory from growing up a "hillbilly" in ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Our Short History
    by Lauren Grodstein

    Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's stronger, than before.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Mercies in Disguise
    by Gina Kolata

    A story of hope, a family's genetic destiny, and the science that rescued them.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

A library is a temple unabridged with priceless treasure...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -