The Casual Vacancy

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The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

You know when something comes along that is so important it just pushes everything else aside? Well, The Stranger’s Child, though immensely enjoyable, has been dwarfed by this- J.K. ROWLING’S NEW BOOK! I write this in capitals because, come on, it’s J.K. ROWLING! J.K. ROWLING! The woman who inspired me, helped me through a sad time and made me want to be an author. When I was struggling with being a nobody at school, one of Rowling’s quotes, “indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike” (which is extremely underrated but one of the most pertinent in the whole series) helped me through. So, understandably, I shoved The Stranger’s Child aside and began to devour The Casual Vacancy. I was finishing my history coursework yesterday, so I’ve only read 60 pages, but here are my thoughts and my verdict so far…

Rowling’s writing for adults… And why shouldn’t she? I’ll admit, I was a teensy bit shocked when I read the word “c*nt”, but that’s because it’s not a word I usually hear and, I will be honest, I wasn’t expecting it from Rowling. That’s not to say it’s wrong, however- I’m shocked when I read the word in any book, but it never puts me off and I appreciate that it was perhaps necessary to convey the character’s hatred of his father. I did at first consider that perhaps she was doing it to distance herself from the Potter series but then I decided that I should stop with the comparisons- she’s an author, and an incredibly talented one, and she has a right to explore those talents. If she’d published it under a pseudonym, no-one would be batting an eyelid! 

Rowling has become an observer of society… What I like most about the book so far, small detail though this is, is that she has picked up on the fact that the worst-behaved students in school are the most indignant when wrongly accused. She makes sharp and accurate comments on society in a much more accessible way than Ian McEwan does!

Hannah is tired and is going to go to bed. I’ll have read this book in a few days’ time, so I’ll do a much better post about it then! 

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My thoughts on ‘The Stranger’s Child’ so far…

 

The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

Some of you may remember I bought this book from Waterstone’s at the end of August, but if not, that’s all you need to know. I started it a few nights ago after finishing Things Fall Apart and after a slightly slow first chapter, I’m enjoying it tremendously so far. However, I’m only on chapter nine, so I thought I’d post my thoughts and predictions now, to see how they change as I read further. This way, I’ll be able to look back with yes-I-was-right glee, or a how-did-I-get-it-so-wrong shaking of my head.

The plot so far… As yet, no child has been had. The stranger, however, seems to be Cecil Valance, George Sawle’s charismatic poet friend from Cambridge, who has come to stay at the Sawle family home of ‘Two Acres’. I should probably also mention that the book is set in the summer of 1913 (just before the breakout of the First World War). George’s father is dead and his mother, Freda, is being courted by a man called Harry. George is not Freda’s only child- she also has Hubert (or Huey), who is in his twenties and seems slightly socially inept, and sixteen-year-old Daphne, who seems to be developing a crush on Cecil.

My predictions… My first prediction, which I actually gathered from the blurb, is that Daphne will bear Cecil’s child. However, things are more complicated than that. It is being implied that Cecil and George are having a sexual relationship, through numerous clues- George placing his hand on Cecil’s back, their game of footsie under the table, the groans and giggles which Daphne hears coming from George and Cecil whilst they are in the hammock and the semen on Cecil’s bedsheets. Cecil does seem, however, to be flirting ever-so-slightly with Daphne, but this could just be her wishful thinking. I think that it’s possible that Cecil is bisexual and is attracted to both brother and sister. I also predict (with a little help from the novel’s title) that Cecil will impregnate Daphne, which means that he is likely to come between her and her brother in a rather catastrophic way. I also do not see Cecil’s relations with either party lasting, but predict that he may return years later to visit his child. Yet this may not be the case- perhaps Cecil and Daphne will marry, to cover up his relations with George which were illegal at the time. As well as this, I have not forgotten the imminent World War- I think there is a chance that either Hubert or Cecil will die in the war. Either way, I think that the Sawle family’s happy days are numbered, and they are about to be divided with no chance of reconciliation.

Other thoughts… I can’t help noticing the novel’s similarity with Ian McEwan’s Atonement (although I am enjoying this much more). It is the story of an upper class family, who are perhaps not quite as upper class as they’d like to think, about to face a World War (although of course in Atonement this is the Second World War rather than the first). There is also some kind of forbidden love, in this case George and Cecil rather than Robbie and Cecilia. Ooh, see, even two of the names are similar! In addition, there is a somewhat foolish girl in her mid-teens who is dabbling in flirting with an older man- Daphne with Cecil in The Stranger’s Child and Lola with Paul Marshall in Atonement. Indeed, Paul Marshall has a somewhat similar role to Cecil in the earlier chapters of the book, as a wealthy stranger and a friend of a male family member in his twenties. A father figure is also absent from both the Tallis and the Sawle households, in one case due to choice and in another due to death. Both families have three children, the oldest of which being a boy and the youngest a girl, the only difference here being the ages and the sex of the middle child. There are also servants present in the stories- Danny Hardman looks after Paul Marshall in Atonement and Jonah takes care of Cecil in The Stranger’s Child. Not only this, the writing style is also very similar; elaborate with detailed description of minute feelings, barely noticeable social interactions and changing perceptions. However, there is also a difference between the two; Atonement took this too far and became what I found a rather pretentious novel, trying to describe sensations that could not be described. Although Atonement is written with considerable skill on McEwan’s part and I am aware that the minute detail is a reflection on Briony’s need for order, I feel that it went too far and made the story seem all perception and no plot. Of course, it is a rather postmodernist work so again I can appreciate the reasons for this, but it didn’t make for an enjoyable read. The Stranger’s Child however, so far, gets the balance right; it’s sophisticated but the plot keeps me compelled too and I can’t wait to find out what happens- and see if my predictions were right!

Have YOU read The Stranger’s Child? What did you think? I’d love to know, so please write a comment!

Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Before I get into reviewing, I’d like to start with an apology. I know I’ve been quiet for the past few weeks and it’s due to a combination of going back to college (well, it’s mainly just going back to college, it’s pretty full-on this year), setting up societies and trying to work in some semblance of a social life. Consequently, there hasn’t been much time for blogging or reading. I’M SORRY. I know I should have prioritised my blog more, the time just slipped away without me realising!

So, into the review. I had to read Things Fall Apart for my English lit coursework. It was on my to-read list and it has also been named one of the 100 best books of all time on the World Library List. Since I had to read it for English, I’ve done some research on its background, as well as the life of the author and it’s pretty interesting stuff. It has been suggested that the author deserves the Nobel Prize for Literature but has never won it due to his criticism of Joseph Conrad. I also discovered that Achebe chose to write in English rather than his native Igbo so that his books could be read in colonising countries, which would allow the colonisers to understand the effects of their actions. This makes sense once you read the book; it is not necessarily an outright attack on colonisation, but is rather an exploration of the consequences of what happens when one culture forces itself upon another. No religion is shown to be “right” or “wrong”; Achebe presents the idea that what works in one culture is an abomination in another, similar to the idea expressed in The Poisonwood Bible

The book is the story of Okonkwo, a great warrior who has already attained three of the four available titles in the clan. Although in Okonkwo’s society a man is not judged by his father, he is terribly ashamed of his father’s laziness and cowardice and spends his entire life trying to prove himself to be the opposite. He represses any emotion that could be perceived as ‘weak’ of ‘effeminate’, including fondness for his own children. Although he is trying to strive in a tribe that has very masculine values, he goes too far, beating his wife during the week of peace and killing the boy who calls him ‘father’. He is eventually exiled for accidentally killing a man and when he returns, the white man has brought Christianity to his home. At first, the leader of the church is a reasonable man who listens to the villages and takes the time to discover that what the Africans believe is not so essentially different to that of Christianity, but after he falls ill he is replaced by a man intent on forcing Christianity down the throats of the tribesmen. The villagers at first begin to fight back but they are not truly prepared to go to war with the white men and, realising this, Okonkwo commits suicide, thus disgracing himself and going against one of the most basic rules of the tribe. 

The simple style of this book makes it very easy to read, unlike Heart of Darkness with its complicated syntax. However, this makes it seem as though it is a simple book, which it is not. It is, in fact, a very powerful work of fiction which explores ethics, religion, relationships and history, and the connections between these. For example, when Ekwefi breaks the rules and follows the priestess to ensure her daughter’s safety the question is begged; what is stronger, faith or the bond between a mother and her child?

Things Fall Apart is a book which throws you into a completely different culture and puts you on the opposite side of colonisation. You don’t find yourself thinking that the traditions of the tribe are “weird”; instead they are rich and interesting and allow you to glimpse a slice of another culture and also another time period. I also found myself absolutely outraged on behalf of the tribesmen at the Western intrusion into their life, and the arrogance of their certainty that their ways were “right” and the ways of the Igbo were “wrong”. 

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history or culture, but it’s not one for those who are into romance or tear-jerkers. Although sad events occur in the book, I never found myself particularly attached to any one character and there wasn’t a romantic element to the story. Neither was it particularly gripping- I didn’t find myself desperate to find out what happened next. I wouldn’t say it was one of the best books I’ve ever read, but I can appreciate the considerable skill exhibited by Achebe. 

Have YOU read Things Fall Apart? What did you think of it? Please let me know! (Not only am I interested, it might be helpful for my English coursework!)