Book review: “The Casual Vacancy” by J. K. Rowling

I read voraciously and I don’t do book reviews for all I read, because that would get boring for you really fast. But I think this one deserves some “notes”, meaning I’m not going to recap plot, other than the very basics, but talk about what I liked and what I didn’t, for the most part. 

PLOT CAPSULE: A Pagford Parish Councilman drops dead on his 19th wedding anniversary, leaving a “casual vacancy” on the council. (Casual vacancy—an open seat created because of death or incapacitation) The seat needs filled, and who fills it will determine the fates of a local drug addiction clinic, as well as the jurisdiction of a nearby housing project. 

LIKES: As usual, Rowling creates worlds well. Pagford is well-realized and thought out. The  problems are contemporary, and the descriptions of poverty ring authentic.  This isn’t Harry Potter, by a long shot. 

DISLIKES: This isn’t Harry Potter, by a long shot. What I mean by that is that not a single character is redeemable—and yes, that includes Krystal Wheedon, who is probably meant to be the “heroine” of the book. She’s a teenager whose mother is a drug addict (who prostitutes herself to get money for the drugs) and has four children by different fathers, two of whom have been taken away by the state. Krystal tries to save her brother, Robbie, from the neglect and squalor of the home they live in. For that, she is commendable. But when a character in the book describes her as “sweet”, and another wants to be just like her, I want to lose my lunch. She tries, yes, to live her best in the life she’s been given, but she never tries to go beyond that. 

The book is divided between teenagers and adults. The teenagers are stock types: “I-hate-small-towns” (there’s an adult like that, too); the bullied teen who cuts herself in the bathroom at night; the cynic, etc. The way they are drawn, they are flat and don’t take on a life of their own. The adults are hardly better, being consumed by their passions: food, drink, a forbidden love, or paralyzing fear. Barry, the deceased councillor, had good qualities, but, in the manner of Dickens’ Mrs. Jellyby, totally ignored his own family in order to save Krystal and others like her. 

No one has a moral compass, no one has a moral code. Everyone has deep, dark secrets that come to light as the novel moves toward a very Hardy-esque ending (Think Tess of the D’Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure). The world Rowling creates for her characters is a world where there is no way out, for anyone. The wife cannot escape her abusive husband; Krsytal cannot escape her mother; Samantha, one of the adults, cannot escape the small town of Pagford, which she despises. And since there are few, if any, characters to root for or support, the book quickly becomes quite depressing. 

Rowling has proved that she has great literary talents (we’ll let Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix slide here). They are not served well by this book. 

More posting

OK, so what was my “Normal” blog ( got hacked. Nothing huge but a bunch of really annoying posts. So I’m taking a break there for now and will be using this as my go-to blog until I decide what to do with AGG. 

In the meantime…crazy weekend. Thought the heart was being weird so spent some time in the ER. Turns out the mag levels were low, so I got some mag via IV, then some happy anti-nausea drugs, because IV mag makes me throw up, then I was dismissed. Home by 1 am or so. Spent all of Sunday and this AM sleeping off  the meds, which are lovely but make me really, really sleepy and unable to navigate a vehicle. I am in full control of my facilities now, so back to work tomorrow. 

Yeah, that’s not me!

Thanks for those of you who alerted me the blog hijack…that was most definitely NOT me. Thanks for the head’s up! 

I may move my blogging to wordpress as a result of this…we’ll see how things go. Having a blog jacked is like having your email or your diary written by someone else, and I don’t like it. 

Photos: A Walk in the Gardens

I forgot to write about this last month, when I actually did it, but better late than never.

In August, I went to Dawes Arboretum, a nearby collection of plants, gardens, and other types of horticulture, to explore the grounds. Armed with my camera, I explored the All-Seasons Garden, a walled garden, and the Japanese Garden. I had first been to Dawes for the wedding of an old friend last September, but I’d never been to explore, and wanted to go back. This Saturday in August provided the perfect chance to do it.

Walled garden


The Japanese Garden


Entrance to the Japanese Garden


Ohio countryside

30 Important Books: No. 10, Catechism of the Catholic Church

This, along with the Bible, is certainly a very important book for any Catholic.

There’s a lot to Catholicism. 2000 years of history will do that. So the CCC (as it’s commonly abbreviated) is a sort of “idiot’s guide” to what we believe, and why. It’s indispensable. Every possible topic you can think of is covered here, in detail, but not in so much detail that you can’t clearly understand what’s being said. And if you want to investigate where the authors got these ideas, there are many, many footnotes which lead you to other documents. (It could become a sort of scavenger hunt through books, if you will)

My copy is trade paperback size. When the CCC first came out in the 1990s, it was actually–not kidding–on sale at the supermarket, and this was before you could buy more than a few books at the supermarket. My parents have the big, coffee-colored covered one, and we’ve marked it with various and sundry post-its and scraps of paper over the years, to indicate things we often referred to. My own is broken in a few places, thanks to some theology courses I took which relied heavily on the CCC, and is also very well marked.

One of the beauties of the CCC is how everything is clearly reasoned, cited, and organized.If you’re Catholic and you don’t have this, go get it. (It’s like $6!) With it, there is never the “oh, I don’t know what my Church believes.” Now you know.

“I would never be happy with anyone else as long as you walked the earth. Which is true. And… I think you feel the same about me.”

Lucy: Oh, I wish I was braver.
Aslan: If you were any braver, you'd be a lioness.

BTW: Dan Stevens said in an interview that this is a genuine reaction on his face—he hadn’t seen her in the dress beforehand.