Casual Vacancy 14: Notable Reviews, High and Low

It’s been more than a month since our first look at Casual Vacancy and we’re overdue for a second reading and discussion. Let’s begin with two reviews of the book, one enthusiastic and the other appalled, and an invitation for you to share links to your favorite, challenging, or most despised thoughts on Ms. Rowling’s latest.

First, the enthusiast — public atheist and Rowling fellow author and magical world cum literary novelist Lev Grossman, TIME magazine: “I’m a believer”

It’s rare to see a writer whom you think you know well unfold a new dimension like this, a dimension you didn’t even suspect existed. The Casual Vacancy is, in a funny way, not so much an extension of the Harry Potter books as their negative image: it’s a painfully arbitrary and fallen world, a world that, bereft as it is of the magic that animates and ennobles Hogwarts, sags and cracks under its own weight. After his furtive coupling with Krystal, a melancholy, postcoital Fats “wished he could simply be transported, this instant, to his attic bedroom.” Harry would have apparated there. But Fats, like the rest of us, must take the long way home.

Next, the Tory convert to Catholicism and champion of British culture, Charles Moore, Telegraph (UK): JK Rowling rejects the culture that made her great — “The Harry Potter author made a fortune from the provincial life that she now so clearly despises”:

I dwell on these points because, taken together, they show that JK Rowling, though very po-faced, is not artistically serious. Her plot is not well-grounded. Her morality tale has all the improbability of magic, but none of its allure.

This is sad, because it is in our provincial life that our great culture has flourished. And it is partly because of the decline of our provincial life that it has degenerated. The huge preponderance of London in the 21st century has certainly made our capital city one of the liveliest places in the world, but it has also drained the life and variety out of the rest of the country. In literature, as in politics, London runs everything, and doesn’t care much about anywhere else.

JK Rowling’s success in the Harry Potter stories was, in fact, the product of a provincial life. Her magical imagination grew strong in the confined spaces of her background. She made a huge fortune. It is an unattractive feature of our celebrity culture that she now despises all those people – virtually the entire human race – who are less of a global phenomenon than herself. Left-wing she may be, but what JK Rowling is really saying to the poor old provincial England that made her is, like Harry Enfield’s famous creation, “I am considerably richer than yow!

More links to reviews after the jump. Please share your favorites and finds in the comment boxes below!

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  1. I literally just finished the book an hour ago, so my impression may be precariously askew by the immediate post-read glow – but, that said, I think Charles Moore has again approached the mirror of the book and found only what he expected to find in the first place. As with those who desperately wanted to find her own support for boarding schools or witchcraft in the Potter books, Moore finds in Vacancy. He has caught the first half of the point right enough – provincial England is not altogether a pleasant place to be, rife with suburban squabblings (and didn’t he notice the Dursleys are the Potter personification of this same tendency?), but CV is ultimately about the overcoming of the pettiness and the resurgence of hope, of striving for a better world. She skewers provincialism for the sake of healing it. What I most appreciated about her satire here was the way she portrayed the Pagford folk looking down their noses at the problems in the Field, even while having those same problems buried under a mile of etiquette and social forms that developed especially to disguise the rotten core. The end, however, turns this presentation on its head and offers the hope of healing, if only the people would reach out and take it. So he got the point well enough, but missed the theme and the bigger picture.

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