Casual Vacancy 2: MuggleMarch or A Modern Moonacre Manor

The profile in The New Yorker in the run-up last week to Casual Vacancy’s publication was titled ‘MuggleMarch’ in jesting suggestion that Ms. Rowling had written a second Middlemarch, George Eliot’s devastating “Portrait of Provincial Life,’ this time featuring Ms. Rowling’s despised bourgeois Muggles. A look at the Wikipedia entry for that work shows why the profile-interview’s title has taken hold as well as it has:

Subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life,” the novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during the period 1830–32. It has multiple plots with a large cast of characters, and in addition to its distinct though interlocking narratives it pursues a number of underlying themes, including the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. The pace is leisurely, the tone is mildly didactic (with an authorial voice that occasionally bursts through the narrative),[1] and the canvas is very broad.

Although it has some comical characters (Mr. Brooke, the “tiny aunt” Miss Noble) and comically named characters (Mrs. Dollop), Middlemarch is a work of realism. Through the voices and opinions of different characters we become aware of various broad issues of the day: the Great Reform Bill, the beginnings of the railways, the death of King George IV and the succession of his brother, the Duke of Clarence (who became King William IV). We learn something of the state of contemporary medical science. We also encounter the deeply reactionary mindset within a settled community facing the prospect of what to many is unwelcome change.

Read the whole entry for as interesting plot points. As rich as that West Country vein is, though for parallels twixt Eliot and Rowling and their intentions and delivery of ‘message,’ I think there’s another more immediate connection between Ms. Rowling’s Postmodern Political Parable (see thread #5) and Goudge’s Little White Horse. The Sweetlove family, the abbey in ruins, and the setting throughout I think are pointers to Loveday and the Merryweather’s in Ms. Rowling’s favorite children’s story. This, though, is that magical kingdom long after the fall and it’s hard to imagine a more painful re-telling of the story than this one.

Your thoughts, please on the Muggle-Middlemarch connections, my Goudge thesis, and your own ideas about this West Country nightmare’s literary antecedents. What hat-tips and echoes struck you on your first reading(s)? Did any of you think ‘Orwell’ and ‘Austen’ as we had anticipated? ‘Eliot’ and ‘Collette,’ not to mention ‘Nabokov’ seem to have been at least as influential…

Casual Vacancy 1: The Harry Potter Echoes

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!

J. K. Rowling on Casual Vacancy at Southbank Centre

More on event here at Best Chick Lit and at The Guardian. Mark Brown reviewed the first reviews there:

The reviews so far have been mixed, to say the least. The Daily Mail’s Jan Moir asked herself whether the book lived up to hype?

“On balance, I would have to say no. Not unless you want to have more than 500 pages of relentless socialist manifesto masquerading as literature crammed down your throat.”

Christopher Brookmyre, writing in the Daily Telegraph, enjoyed it. “One marvels at the skill with which Rowling weaves such vivid characters in and out of each other’s lives, rendering them so complex and viscerally believable that one finds oneself caring for the worst of them.”

The Casual Vacancy will not hit the heights of Harry Potter – more than 450m worldwide sales – but it is likely to go straight to the top of the fiction bestseller chart – the question is: how long for?

Rowling’s hope for Reading Experience? Tears.

The book is unquestionably for adults. Lawson said he had noted the book’s themes when he was reading it: drug addiction, rape, alleged paedophilia.

“It’s a cheery book,” joked Rowling. “Clearly a comedy … good beach read.” …

JK Rowling’s new book has been out less than 24 hours and some who have read it all have admitted tears at the ending.

And that’s how she wants it: “I don’t think I would have much to say to anyone who did not at least tear up a bit,” she told an audience.

“I don’t think I could have any kind of warm feeling towards someone who didn’t feel sad towards the end.”

From The Guardian‘s review of the book:
[Read more…]

J. K. Rowling on Casual Vacancy with ABC, Guardian

Vacancy Day of Publication: Rowling Newsletter, YouTube

On Thursday, 27 November, Casual Vacancy is available for reading at last!

To commemorate, celebrate, and highlight the day, Ms. Rowling tells us in her newsletter that the answer to the question”What sort of book is Vacancy?”  is “I love nineteenth century novels that focus on a town or village. This is my attempt to do a modern version.”

She’ll be talking with Mark Lawson tonight at London’s Southbank Centre, which conversation will be livestreamed at 7:30 pm on YouTube at No, I don’t know if that 7:30 pm is Greenwich time or another.Let us know if you know!

Please share below, too, all your day of publication news! (Hat-tip to Katherine for the Newsletter information.)