Casual Vacancy Thread Round-Up: First Week Twelve Posts

Welcome Guests from the 18 December 2013 Diane Rehm Show about Casual Vacancy!

If you’re looking for a place to start in the posts below, Post #3 details how much cursing there actually was in the book , Post #4 how very autobiographical this book is (and why that shouldn’t matter), and Post #5 is an exegesis of the not very subtle political allegory of John Bull and his wife the Queen vs. the Empire’s legacy and promise in its outliers. After that? 6, 8, 11, and 12 will help you see the anagogical meaning that reviewers and first time readers miss in haste and because the social message is so loud.


The Original Introduction to the Post:

I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to throw together my first thoughts and questions on J. K. Rowling’s new novel, Casual Vacancy, but I found time today to write up some of my impressions after a hurried reading last weekend. This is only a small beginning, of course, for a thousand neglected topics. I think immediately of the Casual Vacancy title and Part captions, the propaganda quality of the work,  and how much our reading of this book because we love our Harry Potter experience colors our appreciation of the novel. None of that below, though you will find literary alchemy, the political and personal allegories, and a word by profane word count on the cussing in Vacancy among other subjects

We’ll get to the neglected topics I mentioned and others soon enough, I’m sure. I hope in the twelve threads below to jump start our conversation of the artistry and meaning and experience of Casual Vacancy, subjects I suspect have been largely lost in the fanfare and shock of the book’s publication. Thank you in advance for joining the discussion and for inviting all the serious reader friends you know to jump in, too!

1. The Harry Potter Echoes

2. MuggleMarch or A Modern Moonacre Manor

3. Potter to Potty-Mouth: The Profanity by the Numbers

4. Literary Narcissism or The Art of the Psychic Realm

5. Barry Fairbrother and the Political Parable

6. Literary Alchemy: The Conjunction of Sex and Death

7. The Seven Part Ring Composition

8. Andrew and Gaia: Fallen Man and the Natural World?

9. Andrew and Stuart: Doppelganger, Ouroboros, or Diptych?

10. The JayZ song  ‘Umbrella’

11. Religion: Christian Hypocrites and Sympathetic Sikhs

12. Authenticity and Hypocrisy:’Penetration,’ Suffering, and the Birth of Consciousness

Post First Week Round-up:

13. Christianity Today: ‘Profoundly Biblical Worldview’

14. Notable Reviews, High and Low

15.  Guest Post: A Telling Re-Take of ‘The Good Samaritan’?

Casual Vacancy 12: Authenticity and Hypocrisy — Penetration, Suffering, and the Birth of Consciousness in JKR’s Latest

Pagford’s village existentialist is the adolescent nihilist named Stuart ‘Fats’ Wall, the kid so cool that he doesn’t care what clique or gang you belong to, he can relate to you just as he is. He’s hipper in his own way than Ferris Bueller.

Fats’ byword and the standard by which he measure real against unreal is “authenticity.” He values the authentic because it is what it is without pretension or feigned substance; it is the opposite of everything which hypocrisy is not.

If Fats’ end is any indication, though, Vacancy is anything but a celebration of or advocacy piece for the existential appreciation of authenticity. Fats winds up a remorseful young man burdened by his responsibility for the deaths of Krystall and Robby, lives that were lost because of his indifference to the situations and reality of others (especially those for whom ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘authenticity’ are abstractions they cannot afford to parse).

The birth of consciousness that Fats experiences in his remorse, his discovery of a greater Self than his delusional individuality, is a transformation that Casual Vacancy seems designed to deliver to us all. We are invited into the thinking, relatively narrow and broad, of a host of characters of great diversity. I think we each become more aware through reading Mugglemarch of our own narrow mindedness and selfishness, not to mention our failings and potential as parents, siblings, friends, children, and members of our communities. The chief virtue of Austen and Dickens protagonists, mental ‘penetration’ or insightful sympathy, is fostered in us as we reflect on our pathetic images in the story mirror.

I ask your comments and corrections, of course!

Casual Vacancy 11: Christian Hypocrites and Sympathetic Sikhs

I hope to write a ‘Seven Keys to Casual Vacancy‘ post sooner than later and a big part of the postmodern chapter will have to be a discussion of the religious content in this novel. Everyone is nominally Christian — they go to funerals, celebrate Christmas, etc. — but none are devotional Christians of any spiritual substance, no one reads scripture or self reflects outside of a secular humanist, post-Christian mind-set, and there is no solace in community, which word means only government and never anything ecclesiastic or truly communal.

The only sort of religious people in the books are the ethnic Indians who are nominally Sikhs. The husband is uncomfortable with the picture of the guru on the wall though Minda likes it. The children prefer to be pretend Christians than explain to their friends how they are neither Sikh nor Muslim per their sect’s founding vision. The wife and mother, at story’s end rejects the husband’s suggestion that they make retreat to the Golden Temple. He, the godlike character above all the strife of the book, understands the importance and necessity of religious observance, at least in times of crisis.

But as one character observes in her nightmare situation, “this is how people go religious,” with “religious” used as a synonym for “bonkers” and “addle-brained.” I’m guessing based on my limited experience (all through UK friends) and reading on the subject that this is not Rowling’s prescriptive view but her realist description of spirituality in the UK today and what sort of people it creates.

I’d love to read your thoughts on the nominal faith of the characters and their egregious hypocrisy as well. Is this a gratuitous slap at the faithful or a valid description of the barrenness of the spiritual landscape Rowling grew up and lives in? as believer or non-believer, what were your thoughts about the church and faiths depicted in Casual Vacancy?

Casual Vacancy 10: The JayZ Song ‘Umbrella’

You can read the lyrics to the song, Umbrella,  here. You can watch the JayZ -Rihanna YouTube music video gone wildly viral since Casual Vacancy’s publication here. You can review Rowling’s comments about the importance of the song here. In brief, it’s to be understood ironically — Krystall doesn’t understand she doesn’t have an umbrella to offer anyone nor is she is likely to be offered the protection of anyone else’s when the storm comes.

Rowling says the song is “just perfect” for the book because of the rap by Jay Z, which describes a person who is “shockproof.” A girl in The Casual Vacancy uses the words, but she does not understand them.

Rowling says, “There’s this rap that Jay Z does at the beginning of the song and it’s actually a very celebratory rap. It’s saying, ‘I’m shockproof …I’m famous, I have money, let the Dow Jones fall, I’m OK,’ and it’s said in the book by a girl who doesn’t really understand the words and who is not OK. It’s very poignant to me that this girl doesn’t understand.”

Rowling’s selection of which lyrics to read is definitely not inclusive — she cites two of the song’s many verses and repeats the same ones each time to the very end.

We’ve got her thoughts about the place of this rap soundtrack into the novel. Please share your musings on this borrowed poetry device. Does it work? What is it supposed to be doing? Outside of Barry Fairbrother’s supposed bemusement, are there any other clues that the girls just don’t understand what they’re singing? Why do the girls of the Crew team insist that it be sung at the funeral?

CV9: Andrew & Stuart — Doppelganger, Uroboros, or Diptych?

I think I read in The New Yorker piece ‘MuggleMarch’ that there was no way Casual Vacancy would be made into a movie. The thinking, I suppose, is that movie-goers are not ready for Obbo’s rape of Krystall, the Dursley-Mollinsons (and, worse, the Prices) on screen for the whole show, and the ugliness of Comprehensive meanness and The Fields. I haven’t read any reviews or discussion since my first reading late Saturday but I’m guessing that there isn’t a feverish speculation in Jo’s Empire of Fans about whether Milley Cyrus will play Krystall Weedon or which Bollywood god and goddess will play the beautiful Doctors Jawanda.

I get that. I think one of the hardest bits of a very challenging read — and one that would be at least as difficult to experience on screen — is that the story principals are Krystall Weedon, not a charm school grad, and the twins of sorts, Andrew Price and Stuart Wall. As touched on thread #5, they are a Uroboros at story’s start who are so close that they share an identity. Though Stuart (‘Fats’) is the Leopold to Andrew’s relatively pathetic Loeb, it is the latter who breaks out from their relationship, first (and importantly) in his secret love for Gaia Bowden and then in his decision to save his family by posting the Ghost revelation about his father on the Pagford website.

That plays out as Andrew hopes at first, when his dad withdraws his candidacy. When Simon loses his job, however, and Andrew/Stuart learn the Prices have to leave town for dad’s possible job in Reading, Stuart feels cut adrift. His best friend from his earliest memories is no longer his surest companion. He plays the cool dude and acts indifferent to Andrew thereafter largely in denial of how this separation pains him. Andrew pursues Gaia and Stuart meets with Krystall as compensatory consolation.

But their unity is not yet broken. Stuart makes what seems an ex machina appearance in the kitchen at the Mollinson Birthday and Electoral Victory Party and, incredibly, tries to make love to the drunken Gaia, his best friend’s girl. After the death of Robby in the River Orr, Andrew finds and saves (?) his best friend, who hides in their most secret sanctuary, the Cave. Rising from that death of sorts, Stuart confesses that he was the Ghost of Barry Fairbrother, the author of all the online messages, to include, of course, the two written by Andrew about Simon and about Howard and Maureen (which last no one but Howard and Shirley seem to have read).

What’s at play here? Here’s an idea for your comment and correction.

Andrew and Stuart are something of a soul diptych as in Jekyll and Hyde. Just as Stevenson’s character Hyde was Jekyll without conscience, so Stuart only becomes bestial when unlinked from Andrew in his private decision to fight back against his father (and protect their family) with his intelligence, not Fats’, and to love the goddess from afar instead of whoring. Stuart unleashed without the relatively grounded Andrew has no sense of measure than his own ratiocinations and conceptions of “authenticity,” becoming a nightmare, even predatory Holden Caulfield.

The return of Fats to Andrew at the party and his attack on Gaia shows his dependence and loss. His grief consequent to Krystall and Robby’s deaths mark his remorse-heavy birth of conscience, which is so real as to include the sins of his friend and better-half Andrew. Confessing that he did it, of course, makes Andrew’s life much worse because Simon believes Stuart’s confession — and attacks his own son for the boy’s part in the cyber attack.

If I’m right in this, I think we have at least one good reason for why many folks could not get into this novel. the characters with whom we are meant to identify — Andrew and Stuart — all their actions are easy to understand but they’re a real stretch for inspiring sympathy, not to mention ‘identification’ and ‘elision.’

Your thoughts please on the Andrew Price and Stuart Wall relationship — and which actors you think should play their parts in the Casual Vacancy movie that will never be made.