Yesterday, the day of the readathon, I was at work. Hurrah. But I put my best reading efforts forward and still managed to read a whole book: Life Class by Pat Barker. Rather excitingly I am going to hear her speak this evening so I will temporarily hold off talking about Life Class and Toby’s Room until next week.
I’ve spent a sunny but misty Sunday morning reading Martin Chuzzlewit. I’ve been trying to start it all week but with difficulty, just because I haven’t read any Dickens in a while. So far, I am a fan of this part:
‘For the same reason that I am not a hoarder of money,’ said the old man, ‘I am not lavish of it. Some people find their gratification in storying it up; and others theirs in parting with it; but I have no gratification connected with the thing. Pain and bitterness are the only goods it ever could procure for me. I hate it. It is a sceptre walking before me through the world, and making every social pleasure hideous.
On that cheerful note: The Casual Vacancy.
Am I allowed to compare J. K. Rowling to Dickens? Possibly with The Casual Vacancy more than Harry Potter but I will attempt to justify the comparison. I suppose I’m only drawing lines between the two because I am writing a post that happens to mention both of them. But, why not?
Firstly, the main reason I enjoyed The Casual Vacancy is because J. K. Rowling is an excellent storyteller. When it comes down to it, this must be why she has been so successful. Even with a very bleak plot, quite horrible characters and a grim outlook, I could picture it all – I knew the characters and I had to know what happened. Basically, she doesn’t need wizards or an audience with a nine year old reading age to write something compelling. Dickens link: I don’t think I need to justify the statement that Dickens is an excellent storyteller. That’d be ridiculous.
J. K. Rowling makes no secret of her humble beginnings. Living off benefits, struggling as a single mother, she has been very, very poor. These are the characters that are the focus of The Casual Vacancy. Set in the quiet suburban village of Pagford, the only blemish is the nearby council estate – known as The Fields. Here there are drug addicts, prostitutes, criminals and children. The book is so desperately sad because there are young children growing up in poverty with no chance of escape. Talking about this exploration into people’s lives, Rowling says:
People’s lives generally are more absurd, sadder, funnier, stranger, than you’re average soap opera […] but if you depict that then you are said to be writing satire.*
The book isn’t only about these people, it is about middle class parents and their children, high-flying academics, shopkeepers, Doctors, Councillors – everyone. Dickens link: What are Dickens’ characters if not an elegant and eccentric cross-section of Victorian society?
“Probably everything I write will be about death and morality because that’s what I think about.”* I think this is a moral novel because there is no way you could read it and not think that there must be a better way. I think that had this book been written by a different author I probably wouldn’t have chosen to read it. However, if I had read it then I would still think it was an important comment on the society we live in. Dickens link: I briefly mentioned the Dickens-morality-death theory in another post: there is a moral core to all the Dickens novels I have read so far. He was a big figure in trying to change what he viewed as negative in his society, he even ran his own house for fallen women. Think about Tom in Bleak House, or the debtor’s prison in Little Dorrit.
Well, that wasn’t quite the review I originally planned to write when I read The Casual Vacancy, but there you have it. And now I’m much more in the mood to carry on reading Martin Chuzzlewit.
* Quoted from the BBC Culture Show interview. If it’s not word for word, it’s because I was typing and listening at the same time.