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.
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!