Here is the first of what I hope will be twelve Casual Vacation discussion threads for those Serious Readers who have read the book at least once and long to share ideas with friends. Before I begin, I want to say I found the Vacancy a very difficult experience, profoundly challenging, and personally edifying, even transformative. I won’t be able to explain that in any depth right away so I worry that the critical quality of these first posts may mislead many to a false conclusion, namely, that I did not enjoy and do not recommend the book to mature, older readers.
There is a lot to discuss, though, beyond my ‘take away’ from a hurried reading. Lest I neglect the obvious, if you don’t want the story’s plot points spoiled before you read it, stop reading now. Buckled up? Here we go –
Casual Vacancy begins, as many noted, with ‘The Man Who Died,’ which seems, along with the consonance of the names Barry and Harry to be a pointer to the inverse meanings of the Hogwarts Saga and Casual Vacancy. Ms Rowling has denied the Harry-Barry link in interviews and the text supports her defensiveness; I certainly expected at least one Harry Potter allusion in the book and there wee quite a few places where one would have been fitting in such a realist piece (e.g., Simon Price’s ritualistic verbal abuse of his sons). She seems to have chosen deliberately to not ‘go there,’ if you will.
Outside of the seven part structure, about which see thread #7, the boy locked in his cupboard for days making national mews reports, the yew tree under which the family of ‘others’ stands at Krystal’s funeral, the constant echoes of the cartoonish Dursleys in the strawman Mollisons (especially Vernon-Howard), and the barren Mrs Wall’s kinship with Mrs Weasley in dress and cares, I was left with a blank on Potter-Vacancy surface parallels. When Fats “wished he could simply be transported, this instant, to his attic bedroom” from his reefer hook-up with Krystal in the graveyard (Part 2, chapter X), I thought, “He wants to Apparate — and there’s no way a boy his age now wouldn’t think, ‘I wish I could Apparate’.”
But maybe I’m all wet? Please share the points of correspondence in the surface of the story that I’m missing, points that jumped right out at you. We’ll get to the Seven Keys, if you will, soon enough; for this thread, let’s focus on the surface narrative!