Harley J. Sims

The Casual Vacancy: J.K. Rowling’s monstrosity

Harley J. Sims
By Harley Sims
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October 22, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - Among the first 50 pages or so of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, it is difficult to say what makes the greatest impression. Perhaps it is a teenage boy’s reference to his father as a “self-satisfied f***er” and a “c**t”, labels which, amidst the repulsive squall of profanity that concludes the second chapter, stand out only because they are italicized. The same teen, later infatuated, is reported to masturbate at the thought of his love interest, the mere thought of her later leaving him “with an ache in his heart and in his balls”. Then there is the description of a five-year-old girl’s exposed vulva—“as though Father Christmas had popped up”, and the description of a used condom lying beside a doorstep—“like the gossamer cocoon of some huge grub”. The cloud of f-words is meanwhile becoming ever thicker, on occasion becoming so abrasive and predictable that one flinches as one flips, each page promising a new eyeful of dirt.

While seemingly picked out like rotten cherries, these items do not misrepresent their crop. Situations and wording in the novel are equally off-putting. While ostensibly the story of a municipal election in the fictional English town of Pagford, The Casual Vacancy is about the dissolution, dysfunction, and misery modern audiences have been led to believe is lurking beneath any pleasant façade. It is, according to The New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani, “depressingly clichéd […] like an odd mash-up of a dark soap opera like ‘Peyton Place’ with one of those very British Barbara Pym novels, depicting small-town, circumscribed lives.”

The book begins with a man—a parish councillor—dying on a street of an aneurism, collapsing before his wife into, what we, we are later told, was “an eruption of vomit and piss, a twitching pile of catastrophe”. The next chapter explores the arrant gleefulness of a family of political rivals at learning and spreading the news of his passing. Shirley Mollison even compares her elation to the birth of her own son: “the news of Barry Fairbrother’s sudden demise lay like a fat new baby to be gloated over by all her acquaintances”.

Keep going, and readers will encounter everything from wife and child-beating through drug addiction and self-mutilation to suicide and rape (two rapes, actually—one, graphically described, of a 16-year-old girl by her mother’s heroin-dealer, and possibly another, inflicted by the same man on her 3-year-old brother. Even Rowling demurs at describing this one). Pick a page: locating such material in The Casual Vacancy is as simple as spinning a roulette wheel. About the only thing missing is cannibalism.

For those who would object that a well-written novel about misery and depravity will indeed come across as miserable and depraved, The Casual Vacancy isn’t well written, either. Though it doesn’t attempt much, it mixes its metaphors (“break the frost”, “sliced […] like a demolition ball”) and presents a large number of awkward sentences whose thesaurus-assisted verbiage pretends sophistication (“The first effusion of Pagford’s outrage had annealed into a quieter, but no less powerful, sense of grievance).”

Perhaps most cloying of all are its politics, however—not liberalism, not progressivism, but leftyism—offering the clichéd, self-loathing-but-self-righteous left-wing extremism parodied even on left-leaning comedy such as 30 Rock and Modern Family. Vices are tragic manifestations of victimhood, men—particularly fathers—are pathetic, negligent, and/or abusive, while the only positive values and innocence to be found in the novel are confined to the token non-white couple.

Parminder and Vikram Jawanda are Sikhs, physically attractive, professionally accomplished (both are doctors), and who look to their faith and holy books for strength and guidance. The only time one of them truly breaks this respectable posture is when Parminder publicly rebukes a client and fellow councillor for believing that drug addicts are responsible for their own actions. She tells him that his obesity is as much a drain on the health care system as drug addiction, and storms away, having jeopardized her career in betraying their doctor-client confidentiality. Among the various misdemeanours of the novel, however, it is practically—and clearly intended to be—noble.

Rowling has stated that the worst criticism she could receive for her adult novel was that she should stick to writing children’s books. One should not be so sure about that; in erecting this ruin, she may have borrowed wood from the bridge. The Casual Vacancy and its hackneyed parade of misery and depravity represent Rowling’s simplistic understanding not just of adult literature, but of literature in general.

While some reviewers, including The Times’ Kakutani, have used the Harry Potter books as a gold standard—essentially soft-pedaling what The Casual Vacancy reveals about Rowling’s approach to fiction—one cannot deny the presence of smarmy self-righteousness, victimology, and stage-managed misery in the Harry Potter books as well. From the obvious example of the abusive Dursleys through bleach-blond racists to house-elf-slavery abolitionism, the books never were subtle in their analogies.

Till now, readers had the luxury of believing that it was all part of some timeless, heroic template, brilliantly recast and represented, irrespective of age and creed. Unfortunately, however, because Rowling’s understanding of readership is clearly based on raw content, with no investment whatsoever in sophistication, one now knows what was left out of Harry Potter.

There are many things one might learn here. While many writers and theorists—among them J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis—have spoken of literature as something to invigorate and empower our own lives, Rowling approaches fictional populations with the entrepreneurial ambitions of a pimp. With The Casual Vacancy, victims are lined up, exposed, and humiliated for what is assumed to be the ultimate pleasure of the audience, not to mention the handsome remuneration of their orchestrator. It is the opposite of catharsis, a clinically-controlled injection of venom for the privileged soul. The image of Rowling on the book jacket—richly dressed, antic smile, seated in a lavishly upholstered chair—is so incongruous with the novel’s contents and personae that it all seems nightmarishly surreal.

Rowling recently told The New York Times that she believed The Casual Vacancy to be one of the best things she has ever written, reinforcing a remark, made earlier to The Guardian, that she did not use a pseudonym because she felt it was braver to publish the novel under her own name. She asserts the influence of Charles Dickens and other celebrated Victorian writers; “The Casual Vacancy,” she says, “consciously harked back to the 19th -century traditions of Trollope, Dickens, and Gaskell… Any review that made reference to any of those writers would delight me.”

As it turns out, a comparison between Rowling and Dickens had already been made—not by a reviewer, but by Rowling’s own editor, Michael Pietsch. Rowling, for her part, has seemingly become accustomed to the association. In speaking of ending the Harry Potter series, for example, she addressed one of Dickens’s remarks from an 1850 edition of David Copperfield, where he reflected on the end of a two-year creative investment in the eponymous character. Rowling was unsympathetic: “To this I can only sigh, ‘try seventeen years, Charles.’” For such a professed admirer of Dickens (and intimate colleague, judging from her use of his Christian name), Rowling also seems to have overlooked the fact that David Copperfield follows many events from Dickens’s own youth—in the real world, rather than Hogwart’s—whereby his investment in the character must be reckoned in decades of reflection.

Perhaps it is best to let Dickens speak for himself, however. Though his works resound with the toil and lamentations of the downtrodden, including, yes, even drug addicts (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), he proves even and especially in matters of misery and victimhood, that literature is about good writing. Consider the situation of Alexandre Manette in A Tale of Two Cities, a man imprisoned in the Bastille for eighteen years:

“The faintness of his voice was pitiable and dreadful. It was not the faintness of physical weakness, though confinement and hard fare no doubt had their part in it. Its deplorably peculiarity was, that it was the faintness of solitude and disuse. It was like the last feeble echo of a sound made long and long ago. So entirely had it lost the life and resonance of the human voice, that it affected the senses like a once beautiful colour faded away into a poor weak stain. So sunken and suppressed it was, that it was like a voice underground. So expressive it was, of a hopeless and lost creature, that a famished traveller, wearied out by lonely wandering in a wilderness, would have remembered home and friends in such a tone before lying down to die.”

Northrop Frye once stated that “if any literary work is emotionally ‘depressing,’ there is something wrong with either the writing or the reader’s response.” As an indictment of bad fiction, it is shrewdly ambiguous, but here Dickens proves, as he does in countless other places, that good writing is like alchemy. Nothing it treats remains the base material which inspired it; even misery becomes gold, though chill to touch. Its brilliance works to bring us together as people, its common language to unite otherwise isolated experiences.

Either Rowling does not understand this, or she is utterly incapable of duplicating it. Either way, The Casual Vacancy is a monstrosity.

Harley J. Sims is a writer and independent scholar living in Ottawa, Canada. He can be reached on his website at www.harleyjsims.webs.com. Reprinted with permission from Mercatornet.com

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Gina Raimondo, Democrat candidate for governor of Rhode Island http://www.ginaraimondo.com/
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Catholic school removes alumna’s photo after she endorses abortion in bid for governor

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By Lisa Bourne

A Rhode Island Catholic school has removed the photo of an alumna from its halls after she endorsed abortion in her campaign for governor.

LaSalle Academy of Providence took alumna Gina Raimondo’s photo down from the school’s Wall of Notables last week after she publicly stated she does not support the Church’s teaching on life and would work to support abortion.

"You know the Catholic Church has a clear position, and I have a clear position,” the state general treasurer said, according to ABC. “And I am clearly pro–choice and as I've said, I as Governor, support the decision in Roe v. Wade."

Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin responded the same day in statement on his Facebook page.

“It is always disappointing when a Catholic candidate for political office abandons the teaching of the Church on the dignity of human life for the sake of self-serving political gain,” he said. Such actions demonstrate an inexcusable lack of moral courage.”

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“Pope Francis has explained how evil abortion really is, that every aborted child bears the face of Jesus Christ,” he continued. “Similarly, I wish to remind Catholics of the Diocese of Providence, in the clearest terms possible: Abortion is a sin, and those who provide it, promote it and support it will be held accountable by Almighty God for the unjust death of unborn children.”

Raimondo, valedictorian of the 1989 class at LaSalle Academy, made her comments at Planned Parenthood’s Rhode Island PAC’s endorsement of her candidacy September 25. She said as well that she is “more pro-choice” than Republican candidate Allan Fung, and that she opposes the Hobby Lobby ruling in support of religious freedom for employers.

According to the Providence Journal, she also said she would oppose efforts to incorporate an option in the Rhode Island health insurance exchange that would exclude abortion or contraception. Raimondo also pledged to seek repeal of a 1997 Rhode Island law banning partial-birth abortion.

Drew Lagace, La Salle’s communications spokesman, told the Providence Journal the school took the photo down and didn’t want to elaborate. But he told the local NBC affiliate, “Her statements were very bold against the Church and the teachings of the Church.”

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Last Call! Can you donate $5?

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By Steve Jalsevac

This is it!

Today is the LAST DAY of our Fall Campaign. But with only hours left to go, we still need to raise just over $40,000 to reach our goal of $150,000

Will you help us now in this 11th hour to reach our goal? 

Please keep in mind that this is just the bare minimum that we need to raise just to keep our news service going until our next campaign! 

We need everyone who has not yet made a donation to do so right now!

The last few days of our quarterly campaigns are always the most stressful times of the year. The stakes are so high, because LifeSite’s existence depends upon the success of these campaigns. <

It is also stressful because we know that we have a responsibility to reach even MORE people with the truth about life and the family, and that we need to be doing even MORE reporting on critical life and family issues.

And yet, at the same time, I am filled with peace, knowing that this work is not our own work, but God’s, and that as long as we strive to do His will, He will always provide us with everything we need!

And I also know that I can always count on our readers to come through for us, no matter how worrisome things might look.

You always have!

And in return, I pledge to you LifeSite’s 100% commitment to doing everything in our power to spread the truth and to promote a Culture of Life, no matter how heavily the odds are stacked against us!

I know we can reach our goal today. 

Of the tens of thousands that will visit our site in the next few hours, I know there are at least 1,000 readers who could chip in just $40 to bring us to our goal. I know there are just 200 people out there who could give a $200 donation and help bring us to the finish line. Or, 500 people who could donate $75. 

It wouldn’t take much if everyone pitched in a little! Whatever you can give, whether its just $5, or $5,000 - every donation counts towards our goal.

It’s all in your hands now, and we thank you for helping us continue our mission!

We will leave the thermometer up on our site for a few more days as we collect mail-in donations. Don’t forget you can also make a donation by phone. Our staff would love to thank you personally for your support. 

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A man carries a sign during Long Beach's Gay Pride parade in 2012 of Newsweek's cover declaring Obama "the first gay president." Juan Camilo Bernal / Shutterstock.com
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Obama admin files first-ever lawsuits against employers who fired transgender workers

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By Ben Johnson

The Obama administration 's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed two lawsuits against employers who fired transgender employees, claiming that the businesses violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act's prohibition of discrimination against women. Last Thursday's lawsuits are the first ever filed by EEOC over what they deem transgender employment bias.

The employment regulatory agency's Indianapolis office sued R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, located in the Detroit area, for firing “Amiee” Stephens, a funeral director who was born male and wished to perform funeral duties in female attire.

The EEOC's Miami office sued Lakeland Eye Clinic in Lakeland, Florida, for firing Michael Branson in June 2011. Branson's lawyer, Jillian Weiss, states his co-workers “snickered, rolled their eyes, and withdrew from social interactions with” Branson after he showed up at work a few months into the job in drag demanding to be called “Brandi.”

Obama officials say that firing transgender workers violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because the employers allegedly fired transgender “women” who “did not conform to the employer's gender-based expectations, preferences, or stereotypes.”

However, that pivotal civil rights law does not mention transgender people nor homosexuals and recognizes neither as a protected minority group that is accorded special rights.

Nonetheless, the Obama administration contends that transgender males are actually women, so any employer who “discriminates” against them is guilty of discrimination on the basis of sex.

The EEOC wrote in its August 20 decision in Complainant v. Jeh Johnson that “While Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination does not explicitly include sexual orientation as a basis, Title VII prohibits sex discrimination, including sex- stereotyping discrimination and gender discrimination. The term ‘gender’ encompasses not only a person’s biological sex, but also the cultural and social aspects associated with masculinity and femininity.”

In other words, males who believe they are females really are females, and they are experiencing discrimination because they do not look like “other” women.

“Moreover, we have held that sex discrimination claims may intersect with claims of sexual orientation discrimination,” the EEOC continued.

EEOC General Counsel David Lopez told BuzzFeed that the Obama administration wants “to ensure employers aren’t considering irrelevant factors, like gender-based stereotypes or gender identity, in making employment decisions.” But business owners say the image projected by outside sales representatives, front office personnel, and other employees has a real impact on the customer's comfort and likelihood to do business with a company.

Mario Diaz, legal counsel of Concerned Women for America, told LifeSiteNews that the lawsuits are the latest push by the Obama administration to further the radical homosexual and transgender political agenda without persuading the American people first.

“The mainstreaming of transgenderism is a debate that is just beginning in our culture,” Diaz told LifeSiteNews. “The American people should debate the complex issues involved, and the legislatures should act based on the conclusions we reach as a society.”

“For the Obama administration to act unilaterally, once again, to force its conclusion about sexuality and morality on the nation is beyond reprehensible,” he said.

“Nevertheless, we can’t say we are surprised. This is why President Obama appointed celebrated homosexual activist Chai Feldblum to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission back in 2010, when we sounded the alarm about the implications of such an appointment.”

Homosexual activists were thrilled. Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the homosexual lobbying group Human Rights Campaign, called the lawsuits an “historic and a giant step” that “deserves immense praise.”

The new prosecutions are an attempt to implement a December 2012 Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) drawn up by Obama administration officials making "coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII's sex discrimination provisions, as they may apply" as “a top Commission enforcement priority.”

And the Obama administration promises this is only the beginning. Robert E. Weisberg, regional lawyer for the EEOC's Miami district office, told Florida's Lakeland Ledger, "I sincerely hope that it serves as a teaching moment for the employer community on how the EEOC views the law and their intention to enforce the law — and for victims who might not have realized they have this type of relief available, to (encourage them to) come forward.”

He added that the “educational byproduct of a case like this can extend far beyond the parties in the lawsuit, which would be the real hope."

President Obama has worked like no other president to promote the redefinition of gender norms, from a biological reality to a malleable social construct.

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In late April, his administration stated that Title IX funding, intended to assist women pursue higher education, applies to transgender males, through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development demanded that any renter who accepts Section 8 or HUD financing must rent their accommodations to homosexuals and transgender people.

In 2010, Obama named “Amanda” Simpson the Senior Technical Advisor to the Commerce Department, thought to be the first transgender presidential appointment.

Long before seeking the presidency, Barack Obama talked about aggressive federal action to promote social engineering in a 2001 interview on public radio. When conservative media outlets said this meant candidate Obama would use executive powers to promote his agenda in lieu of Congressional support, mainstream reporters such as the Associated Press and The Washington Post dismissed their claims.

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