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The Casual Vacancy review, pt 3: 34-101

drinking chocolate
So it's been a year and a half since I started trying to read this book.  It was hard getting back into it at first.  I found that it wasn't the characters who were unpleasant so much as JKR's constant, grieved cynicism about the droning pettiness of human nature.  So many of the words she chooses have unpleasantness to them:  Despise.  Smug.  Putty.  She even described a yucca plant as "depressed-looking."  The surroundings are weighed down with unpleasantness, suffused with it, and under the surface, the people harbor tiny little hatreds.

But then I got sucked in again.  Oh, the child.  Krystal Weedon's toddler brother.  Years ago, when I wrote my talk "The Mother Who Lived," I wrote about how the thought of baby Harry moving in with the Dursleys always makes me worry about diaper rash.  I see with this brother that I was right to worry; of course it was a worry.  It is harrowing, the social worker's visit, and aching, the lovely touches of Krystal's influence even though the girl herself is absent.  I see from this portrait how she might have made herself available to the boy who likes to touch her just because it was perhaps a bit of sweetness in her life, the pleasure of sexual contact, and the lack of conversation or personal connection must have been a kindness as well, no need to get involved or to add to her burdens by explaining anything.

Harry Potter shows up here, too, the child locked in a cupboard by his "psychotic stepfather."

Sometimes she's just a stunning writer.  From p95:  "A pause rolled out across the table like a fresh tablecloth, pristine and expectant..."

And here's an extraordinarily nuanced observation of married life, p100:  "Years of experience had taught her that Colin ought not to be opposed in the first throes of his enthusiasm, or it would simply entrench him in his determination to proceed.  Those same years had taught Colin that Tessa often pretended to agree before raising objections."

I'm hooked.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
kerravonsen
Mar. 5th, 2014 07:05 am (UTC)
I'm still not tempted to read The Casual Vacancy, but I'm pretty sure that the public's initial reaction to it(*) was one factor which motivated JKR to write under a pseudonym.

(*) I remember one cartoon which pictured a pregnant Hermione and a Harry who was shooting up - I wish I had some brain-bleach for that.
miamadwyn
Mar. 5th, 2014 12:56 pm (UTC)
Krystal grabbed my heart from the moment she appeared on the page.

JKR deliberately kept the reader at a distance in these books, never allowing us to get close to any of the characters, the total opposite of how we met and stayed with Harry. That conscious decision is what made this book more difficult to like. I'm not sure why she did it, unless she thought it made it more literary.
drinkingcocoa
Mar. 5th, 2014 01:32 pm (UTC)
Oooh, a puzzle! Why did she keep readers at a distance in TCV? My current guess is that she was not motivated much, if at all, by literary devices, but driven mostly by an urgent feeling of "This is what *I* want to write, and nobody can tell me otherwise, and I'm going to say everything I've wanted to say that was inappropriate for a children's series." I'm thinking so far about the masterful sequence with the guidance counselor, judging Krystal's indignant tears when the principal sent her to the office for "laughing" at Barry's death... This makes me think the theme of this book, so far, is how people judge other people. So maybe that's part of the distance.

Looking forward to delving back in today.
solochan
Mar. 5th, 2014 05:12 pm (UTC)
I have to re-read this again.

Thank you for reminding me - but I don't know if I can read it without it breaking my brain. I forced my mum to read it (I actually forced her by giving her the audio book)

I hope you find it a thrilling read as I did - even though it's hard content!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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