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Monday, January 06, 2014

Not casual, Edgy, Thought provoking, Honest

Monita Soni

By Monita Soni, MD

I recently picked up “Casual Vacancy” by JK Rowling to read on a flight. 

I had not read the reviews but I remembered hearing that this was different from the “ Magical Potter” series.  This is a somber but well-written adult read. I would not recommend it for children because of graphic accounts of self-mutilation, suicide, pedophilia, mental illness and other ugly realities.  JK R’s narration is effortless; dry British humor emerges but is restrained. Rowling boldly strips her characters to their sullied souls and makes the reader acutely aware of her penetrating literary eye. I don’t think she wrote this book on her train trips but I sense that this plot was brewing in her mind for sometime perhaps since childhood. She is a wizard at creating adolescent characters. They are painted with so much finesse that you can touch and feel their blemishes, insecurities; false sense of bravado, odd alliances and stark rebellion. “There is probably a bully like “Fats” in any school and a silently suffering victim like Sukhvinder. There is no protagonist but one is left feeling deeply for the rough and tough, “Krystal” daughter of a drug-addict mother who tries hard to beat dire poverty and the odds stacked up against her system but fails miserably. There is no redemption and the ending is bleak but there is a metaphor of hope in the yearning to excel at “rowing”!

I can picture Rowling: Sipping her “Hot tea” and reaching out in her brown bag for a “scone”, and out crawled Howard, the corpulent baker/café owner. As she shook the bag in disbelief, all the 18 motley citizens of “Pagford” tumbled out, one after the other with their petty idiosyncrasies crying out loud to be woven into a story. There you have it, Casual Vacancy was born! It all began with the death of Barry Fair-brother. As Rowling introduced the aspirants for the “Parish councilor's vacancy” his death created, she gave us an inside tour into their personal vendettas, stagnant home-life, greed, lust, ambition, codependence, mistrust, abuse, racism, neglect, backhanded charity and marital tensions. This is not “their” sordid story; this could be “our” story. The people who were disenchanted by this plot are probably aware of these social ignominities but choose to ignore them. These days the question is not “Who will bell the cat?” It is: “ Why should one bell the cat?” Let the cat get away with murder as long as we are safe. We smile and sidestep the scene because we have our morsel in our mouth.  There are wonderful “church-going” people all around us involved in fundraisers for “fighting obesity’, “supporting education” or “building a temples“ but where are these “Good Samaritans” when someone loses a job, when a person is a victim of an abusive relationship, a neighbor dies, or a child falls short. People talk about it for a while and then move on. Good deeds are done only for recognition or publicity. Our society is disintegrating much like the lives of people in Pagford. We gather for dinners over cheap wine and malicious gossip. Friendships and political alliances are based on bank accounts, mcmansions or expensive cars. Ladies covet other women’s jewels. Men covet other men’s women. We look down on Rowling’s characters because they get angry and frustrated but still keep up their jaded façade. But are we not guilty of keeping up appearances! May be we need a visit from Barry's ghost?!

This is a painfully honest book. It is depressing but the author has a powerful message.  For those that heed the message and step out of casual dinner parties, quit casual chatter and discard the cloak of casual callousness, this book has meaning. That’s the magic of JKR!

By Monita Soni

Monita Soni, MD -- A pathologist in Huntsville, Alabama, diagnosing cancer in her day job. Reading and writing poetry is a passion that splashes her literally with a sparkling abundance. She is inspired by great twentieth century poets (Robert Frost, Keats, Browning and Tagore) and ancient Sufi poet like Hafiz, Rumi and Faiz. Her writing style weaves eastern and western cultures. You can hear her commentaries on WLRH Sundial Writer's corner.

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