Saturday, 29 September 2012

A Review of 'The Casual Vacancy': Pretty Vacant

I never really caught on to the whole Harry Potter phenomenon; not that I had religious objections - my kids read the books and I took them to the movies. It's not that I can no longer enjoy children's books, either; I can still delight in 'The Wind in the Willows', which was on my bedside table recently, and many other children's classics hold such (nostalgic?) appeal that I can enjoy them repeatedly. The Potter series should have appealed to the Anglophile and Gothic fiction enthusiast in me, but try as I might, I found I just couldn't get past J.K. Rowling's clunky prose, especially such huge volumes of it.
Anyway, Rowling's first novel for adult readers, 'The Casual Vacancy', has been getting quite a bit of positive publicity down here this week and will surely get to the top of the bestseller list before Christmas. If you're thinking of buying it for yourself or a friend/family member, though, here's a  review by the erudite journalist and biographer Charles Moore that you might want to check out first:
"The blurb says that The Casual Vacancy is “a big novel about a small town”. That is, in principle, a wonderful thing to write. Anthony Trollope does it about Barchester. Jane Austen does it about Highbury. Both these are comedies of manners that are also morally serious. George Eliot does it in the Midlands. Thomas Hardy does it about Dorset (there is a masterly description of the 19th-century equivalent of Rowling’s Fields in The Mayor of Casterbridge). He discerns in his provincial milieu the elements of implacable tragedy. These great writers have widely differing approaches and styles. But what they have in common is a sense that the small-town/rural life they describe is real. Sophisticated though their art is, it does not look down upon its chosen setting from a lofty height. It inhabits its own world fully. The authors may laugh at their creations sometimes. They may certainly pass unfavourable comment on social injustice, but they do not invite their readers to despise the world they depict. For JK Rowling, on the other hand, Pagford is a vehicle, not properly imagined. It is southern, provincial, class-bound and “therefore” contemptible. As a result, the book is negligent about reality..."

Read it all here.

If Moore is right - and I do trust his judgment in such matters - Rowling's offering seems, like a lot of contemporary fiction, to be "pretty vacant" when it comes to redeeming features; just another slice of late modern nihilism that we're being asked to fork over $39.99 for the privilege of "enjoying". Not me; I think I might revisit 'Barchester Towers' in the post-Christmas holidays, unless someone can make another suggestion.

PS
Why so many posts on a Saturday? Don't I have a sermon to prepare?
Alas, I'm currently under medical orders to rest, having contracted some sort of virus that feels like Glandular Fever, though I've already had that and don't think you can get it twice. So I'm doing more net surfing and blogging than usual in order to ward off insanity!

4 comments:

churchmousec said...

Pastor Mark, I am sorry to hear that you are unwell and pray for your speedy recovery. As pleasurable as surfing the net and having a rest are, you'd probably much prefer to be amongst your congregation and in the pulpit.

As to Ms Rowling. Have you read the comments following Mr Moore's article? Most in Britain will pick up on what is a stark hostility of our Celtic nations from the 1707 union (Wales, Scotland, NI) towards that 'unmentionable', 'nasty Tory' England. (Before anyone gets his or her back up, I live in and love England.)

Although, it would appear, and I'm doing a quick scan of contradictory statements in the Telegraph comments section, that the author was born and educated in England, she seems to have moved up north (to Scotland) for political or romantic reasons. Fine. We all do things in our youth which might be questioned later in life. No criticism there.

However, most Rowling scrutinisers will observe that she supports the Left (see British interviews) and as a result, whilst she has done an admirable job in getting herself off the dole by writing in Scottish coffee shops (eventually successfully published many times) she seems to have an anti-Establishment (read 'anti-English') bent.

Therefore, it is not surprising that she has written this type of novel which is, let's face it, about England. Many of us suspected that she was going to come out with something of the sort sooner or later. Sad but true.

Pastor Mark, I hope that you feel better very soon. May God bless you and your family.

Churchmouse

churchmousec said...

Pastor Mark, I am sorry to hear that you are unwell and pray for your speedy recovery. As pleasurable as surfing the net and having a rest are, you'd probably much prefer to be amongst your congregation and in the pulpit.

As to Ms Rowling. Have you read the comments following Mr Moore's article? Most in Britain will pick up on what is a stark hostility of our Celtic nations from the 1707 union (Wales, Scotland, NI) towards that 'unmentionable', 'nasty Tory' England. (Before anyone gets his or her back up, I live in and love England.)

Although, it would appear, and I'm doing a quick scan of contradictory statements in the Telegraph comments section, that the author was born and educated in England, she seems to have moved up north (to Scotland) for political or romantic reasons. Fine. We all do things in our youth which might be questioned later in life. No criticism there.

However, most Rowling scrutinisers will observe that she supports the Left (see British interviews) and as a result, whilst she has done an admirable job in getting herself off the dole by writing in Scottish coffee shops (eventually successfully published many times) she seems to have an anti-Establishment (read 'anti-English') bent.

Therefore, it is not surprising that she has written this type of novel which is, let's face it, about England. Many of us suspected that she was going to come out with something of the sort sooner or later. Sad but true.

Pastor Mark, I hope that you feel better very soon. May God bless you and your family.

Churchmouse

Mark Henderson said...

Thanks for your kind thoughts, Churchmouse.

Yes, I realised Ms Rowling was inclined to Leftist views and perhaps anti-English sentiment. I do think More has a point about her turning her back on those who amde her rich and famous. Disappointing, even though I'm not a "fan".

Meerabai said...

The Casual Vacancy was a very far cry from Harry Potter. The writer has used an incident, namely a death, to bring out the social and political dynamics in a small fictitious English village. There is a scenario that would typify almost any rural community that is wholly weighed down with matters of local importance. The outside world does not matter to the inmates.

The story is meandering and moves at a relaxed pace and it is not devoid of drama.
The novel brings out the passions, the hatred, rivalries and resentment that fester in minds of the adults and children. Perhaps this pattern of interaction is applicable to all of humanity if only the scale were to differ. Every character is ensconced in his or her own little world and interacts and thinks accordingly. Maybe all humans are self centred to a large extent be they in a village or a metropolis.

The feel of the book was nice and gossippy and one can easily lose oneself in it. However it did have its sad, even tragic moments.

All-in-all the book is quite brilliant from one of the most evocative authors of modern times.