Harley J. Sims

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

Harley J. Sims
By Harley Sims
Image

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

FREE pro-life and pro-family news.

Stay up-to-date on the issues you care about the most. Subscribe today. 

Select Your Edition:


Share this article

Advertisement
Featured Image
Lisa Bourne

,

Pressure mounts as Catholic Relief Services fails to act on VP in gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne
Image
Rick Estridge, Catholic Relief Services' Vice President of Overseas Finance, is in a same-sex "marriage," public records show. Twitter

BALTIMORE, MD, April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Nearly a week after news broke that a Catholic Relief Services vice president had contracted a homosexual “marriage” while also publicly promoting homosexuality on social media in conflict with Church teaching, the US Bishops international relief agency has taken no apparent steps to address the matter and is also not talking.

CRS Vice President of Overseas Finance Rick Estridge entered into a homosexual “marriage” in Maryland the same month in 2013 that he was promoted by CRS to vice president, public records show.

Despite repeated efforts at a response, CRS has not acknowledged LifeSiteNews’ inquiries during the week. And the agency told ChurchMilitant.com Thursday that no action had been taken beyond discussion of the situation and CRS would have no further comment.

"Nothing has changed,” CRS Senior Manager for Communications Tom said. “No further statement will be made."

LifeSiteNews first contacted CRS for a response prior to the April 20 release of the report and did not receive a reply, however Estridge’s Facebook and LinkeIn profiles were then removed just prior to the report’s release.

CRS also did not acknowledge LifeSiteNews’ follow-up inquiry later in the week.

“Having an executive who publicly celebrates a moral abomination shows the ineffectiveness of CRS' Catholic identity training,” Lepanto Institute President Michael Hichborn told LifeSiteNews. “How many others who hate Catholic moral teaching work at CRS?”

CRS did admit it was aware Estridge was in a “same-sex civil marriage” to Catholic News Agency (CNA) Monday afternoon, and confirmed he was VP of Overseas Finance and had been with CRS for 16 years.

“At this point we are in deliberations on this matter,” Price told CNA that day.

ChurchMilitant.com also reported that according to its sources, it was a well-known fact at CRS headquarters in Baltimore that Estridge was in a homosexual “marriage.” 

“There is no way CRS didn't know one of its executives entered into a mock-marriage until we broke the story,” Hichborn said. “The implication is clear; CRS top brass had no problem with having an executive so deliberately flouting Catholic moral teaching.”

“The big question is,” Hichborn continued, “what other morally repugnant matters is CRS comfortable with?”

While the wait continues for the Bishops’ relief organization to address the matter, those behind the report and other critics of prior instances of CRS involvement in programs and groups that violate Church principles continue to call for a thorough and independent review of the agency programs and personnel.

“How long should it take to call an employee into your office, tell him that his behavior is incompatible with the mission of the organization, and ask for his resignation?” asked Population Research Institute President Steven Mosher. “About thirty minutes, I would say.”

“The Catholic identity of CRS is at stake,” Hichborn stated. “If CRS does nothing, then there is no way faithful Catholics can trust the integrity of CRS's programs or desire to make its Catholicity preeminent.” 

Advertisement
Featured Image
Thousands of marriage activists gathered in D.C. June 19, 2014 for the 2nd March for Marriage. Dustin Siggins / LifeSiteNews.com
The Editors

, ,

Watch the March for Marriage online—only at LifeSiteNews

The Editors
By

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- At noon on Saturday, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and dozens of cosponsors, coalition partners, and speakers will launch the third annual March for Marriage. Thousands of people are expected to take place in this important event to show the support real marriage has among the American people.

As the sole media sponsor of the March, LifeSiteNews is proud to exclusively livestream the March. Click here to see the rally at noon Eastern Time near the U.S. Capitol, and the March to the Supreme Court at 1:00 Eastern Time.

And don't forget to pray that God's Will is done on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court hears arguments about marriage!

Share this article

Advertisement
Featured Image
Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben

, ,

Hillary Clinton: ‘Religious beliefs’ against abortion ‘have to be changed’

Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben
By Ben Johnson

NEW YORK CITY, April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Speaking to an influential gathering in New York City on Thursday, Hillary Clinton declared that “religious beliefs” that condemn "reproductive rights," “have to be changed.”

“Yes, we've cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health,” Hillary told the Women in the World Summit yesterday.

Liberal politicians use “reproductive health” as a blanket term that includes abortion. However, Hillary's reference echoes National Organization for Women (NOW) president Terry O’Neill's op-ed from last May that called abortion “an essential measure to prevent the heartbreak of infant mortality.”

The Democratic presidential hopeful added that governments should throw the power of state coercion behind the effort to redefine traditional religious dogmas.

“Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources, and political will,” she said. “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”

The line received rousing applause at the feminist conference, hosted in Manhattan's Lincoln Center by Tina Brown.

She also cited religious-based objections to the HHS mandate, funding Planned Parenthood, and the homosexual and transgender agenda as obstacles that the government must defeat.

“America moves ahead when all women are guaranteed the right to make their own health care choices, not when those choices are taken away by an employer like Hobby Lobby,” she said. The Supreme Court ruled last year that closely held corporations had the right to opt out of the provision of ObamaCare requiring them to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization to employees with no co-pay – a mandate that violates the teachings of the Catholic Church and other Christian bodies.

Clinton lamented that “there are those who offer themselves as leaders...who would defund the country's leading provider of family planning,” Planned Parenthood, “and want to let health insurance companies once again charge women just because of our gender.”

“We move forward when gay and transgender women are embraced...not fired from good jobs because of who they love or who they are,” she added.

It is not the first time the former first lady had said that liberal social policies should displace religious views. In a December 2011 speech in Geneva, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said perhaps the “most challenging issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens.” These objections, she said, are “not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation.”

While opinions on homosexuality are “still evolving,” in time “we came to learn that no [religious] practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us.”

Her views, if outside the American political mainstream, have been supported by the United Nations. The UN Population Fund stated in its 2012 annual report that religious objections to abortion-inducing drugs had to be overcome. According to the UNFPA report, “‘duty-bearers’ (governments and others)” have a responsibility to assure that all forms of contraception – including sterilization and abortion-inducing ‘emergency contraception’ – are viewed as acceptable – “But if they are not acceptable for cultural, religious or other reasons, they will not be used.”

Two years later, the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of the Child instructed the Vatican last February that the Catholic Church should amend canon law “relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services may be permitted.”

At Thursday's speech, Hillary called the legal, state-enforced implementation of feminist politics “the great unfinished business of the 21st century,” which must be accomplished “not just for women but for everyone — and not just in far away countries but right here in the United States.”

“These are not just women's fights. These have to be America's fights and the world's fights,” she said. “There's still much to be done in our own country, much more to be done around the world, but I'm confident and optimistic that if we get to work, we will get it done together.”

American critics called Clinton's suggestion that a nation founded upon freedom of religion begin using state force to change religious practices unprecedented.

“Never before have we seen a presidential candidate be this bold about directly confronting the Catholic Church's teachings on abortion,” said Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.

“In one sense, this shows just how extreme the pro-abortion caucus actually is,” Ed Morrissey writes at HotAir.com. “Running for president on the basis of promising to use the power of government to change 'deep seated cultural codes [and] religious beliefs' might be the most honest progressive slogan in history.”

He hoped that, now that she had called for governments to change religious doctrines, “voters will now see the real Hillary Clinton, the one who dismisses their faith just the same as Obama did, and this time publicly rather than in a private fundraiser.”

Donohue asked Hillary “to take the next step and tell us exactly what she plans to do about delivering on her pledge. Not only would practicing Catholics like to know, so would Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and all those who value life from conception to natural death.”

You may watch Hillary's speech below.

Her comments on religion begin at approximately 9:00. 

Advertisement

Customize your experience.

Login with Facebook