Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
Beautifully read by Tom Hollander. The casual vacancy of the title arises when a member of the local council suddenly dies, leaving his seat vacant. An election can be held to fill the spot.
At first the novel is a bit like an experiment in the literary genre: Lots of angst and no plot, which is great because if you’re listening while doing something else it doesn’t matter much if you miss a bit. There are some lovely descriptions of things, if you care about that sort of thing, and I was reminded that in the Harry Potter series the author’s most beautifully realised character was that of Neville Longbottom. Neville, however, gets to grow up and rise to the occasion. Casual Vacancy is full of characters who don’t.
In the later part of Casual Vacancy all the threads start to come together in a plot the climax of which you just know can't be good. There are some very vulnerable characters in the story, and they have very limited ideas of how to get out of the traps they’re in. The final line of the book, I think, shows what Rowling thinks has been the problem all along.
It’s an interesting thing to read after having read Life At The Bottom. Dalrymple believes people have choices but are refusing to take them. Rowling describes people too bewildered by their lives to understand their choices.
Personally, I would still look back at Charles Dickens, and the memorable speech given by Patrick Stewart in one of the films of A Christmas Carol, about poverty and ignorance. Ignorance and poverty, the two evils that together keep people in misery. I don’t feel I can do much about poverty, but schools and libraries can be supported, governments encouraged to keep funding them, and anti-intellectualism pushed back against. So many people are not only ignorant but proud of it and, worse yet, don’t want anyone else to know anything either.