My Own Humble Review of “The Casual Vacancy” (Spoiler Alert)

Dear P,

“Honesty was Fats’ currency, his weapon and defense. It frightened people when you were honest; it shocked them. Other people, Fats had discovered, were mired in embarrassment and pretense, terrified that their truths might leak out, but Fats was attracted by rawness, by everything that was ugly but honest, by the dirty things about which the like of his father felt humiliated and disgusted. Fats thought a lot about messiahs and pariahs: about men labeled mad or criminal; noble misfits shunned by the sleepy masses.”

“He wanted to toughen up inside, to become invulnerable, to be free of the fear of consequences: to rid himself of the spurious notions of goodness and badness.”

“What Fats wanted to recover was a kind of innocence, and the route he had chosen back to it was through all the things that were supposed to be bad for you, but which, paradoxically, seemed to Fats to be the one true way to authenticity; to a kind of purity…He wanted to journey through dark labyrinths and wrestle with the strangeness that lurked within; he wanted to crack open piety and expose hypocrisy; he wanted to break taboos and squeeze wisdom from their bloody hearts; he wanted to achieve a state of amoral grace, and be baptized backwards into ignorance and simplicity.”

“He was slumped in the back, gazing out of the window, as though his parents were two people who had picked him up hitchhiking, connected to him merely by chance and proximity.”

“…Samantha was sliding gently toward contented drunkenness, but something in her was making forlorn protests, like a man swept out to sea. She attempted to drown it in more wine.”

“How awful it was, thought Tessa, remembering Fats the toddler, the way tiny ghosts of your living children haunted your heart; they could never know, and would hate it if they did, how their growing was a constant bereavement.”

“He fought back with every weapon in his arsenal, being alternatively obtuse, evasive, and pedantic, for it was wonderful how you could obscure an emotional issue by appearing to seek precision.”

“It was so good to be held. If only their relationship could be distilled into simple, wordless gestures of comfort. Why had humans ever learned to talk?”

“It started with a yearning for nicotine and beauty.”

“He could not even take comfort in knowing that he had spent most of his adult life in dread of calamities that had not materialized, because, by the law of averages, one of them was bound to come true one day.”

“Both could feel the relationship crumbling to pieces beneath the weight of everything that [he] refused to say.”

“It was strange how your brain could know what your heart refused to accept.”

“It often took a little bit of drink, these days.”

“Was is love when somebody filled a space in your life that yawned inside you, once they had gone?”

But who could bear to know which stars were already dead, she thought, blinking up at the night sky, could anybody stand to know they all were?”

“The Casual Vacancy”, by the great Ms. Rowling, has received many negative reviews in the few weeks since it’s release. On amazon, it has received more “1 star” reviews than “5 star”  reviews. NYTimes online calls it banal, cliche, and dull.

I, however, liked it. If I had to sum the book up in a sentence, it would be, “A bunch of British people searching for truth.” While the HP series revolved around love (if you disagree, feel free to say so in the comments), this novel revolves around truth. And, as Dumbledore said, “The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, Harry, and must therefore be treated with great caution.”

Oh yeah. That quote was from memory and I got it exactly.

This novel is often ugly and sad, because it reflects the character’s perception of truth, and because the characters in the story are often petty and small-minded. It was if Aunt Petunia and all her friends had their own novel. It lacks the vastness of the Harry Potter series because the plot happens on a much smaller scale. Instead of good-versus-evil we have sad-British-person-versus-other-sad-British-person.

Thus, “The Casual Vacancy” was not Harry Potter. However, I appreciated Rowling’s usual piercing knowledge of human nature, as evidenced by the quotes above. Also, it was comforting to feel the cadence of her sentences, which brought me through so many light childhood afternoons and dark adolescent storms.

So, since you are also a Harry Potter fan, you will probably like the book. If you weren’t, it’s pretty average and I probably wouldn’t recommend it.

Hugs and kisses,

E

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