Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gritty Realism Doesn't Care that Magical Realism Would be More Fun

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
(Little, Brown & Company, 2012)
Format: audio CD via library (read by Tom Hollander for Hachette Audio)

From Goodreads: "When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils...Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity, and unexpected revelations?

A big novel about a small town, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults. It is the work of a storyteller like no other."

As my sister-in-law texted me after reading this: I have thoughts.

Now, being the voracious reader that I am, I'm as happy with boy wizards as I am with scheming small-town councillors, so long as the writing holds up. And as anyone would expect from Rowling, the writing definitely holds up. I got a whiff of "after this, no one can accuse me of only achieving success through escapism" out of the plot, but that's the trouble with knowing too much about the author's life instead of taking a book strictly on it's own terms. And what terms they are. Pagford, quiet, idyllic little Pagford, is in fact a seething mass of modern venality under a polite veneer.

My friend S wrote, I think, a perfect review of it, and I'm reprinting this from her:

  • "Rowling skips nothing – prejudice, bullying, disillusion, failure, success, rejection, mental illness, drug addiction, and tragedy. All of it weaves together to create a world that we all know but, out of an intense desire to be polite, we ignore. But that world exists and, by not acknowledging it, we condone it."
I will say that this moved a lot more quickly for me once I switched to the audio version. I was completely absorbed in Hollander's narration, and his ability to convey not just the right voice, but the right attitude for each character. It is a great skill, and his light, charming tone carried me inexorably into this often-grim and dismal world. It almost felt like cheating, to allow the narration to be a conduit into Rowling's examination of the underbelly of life, but I think in a way it also kept poor dead Barry around a bit more for me. 

Everything that spins out of control in this novel is a direct result of Barry's untimely death. So often the characters were, in their minds, grasping the baton from him and running headlong into the future. But no one ran in the same direction, and many of them were on crash courses. It's kind of a joy to have been a rubbernecker at the scene.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you enjoyed is work. It is heart-breakingly brilliant and a train wreck of actions meeting consequences.

    Your friend S