In the first Columbia Book Club discussion of the new year, we dive into Harry Potter writer J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. Having multiple characters is about the only thing this novel has in common with the magical series.
Rowling's new novel is more mature for sure, but it's more than just an adult novel. The novel simply tells the truth about how society is now. Even if not everyone lives in a small town where everybody knows everybody, everyone can relate to at least one of the characters, if not all. Besides the political foundation, Rowling has created a town she is already familiar with. Our host, Jean, chose the book for this month's reading from a Charlie Rose interview with J.K. Rowling. Jean also has a love for politics and social issues such as poverty, an underlining theme for this novel.
As a group we discovered there are at least 37 characters in this story. The two biggest things we noticed is Rowling's incredible talent for storytelling and her revelation of the English middle class as who they are: snobs. Krystal Weedon was the star of our conversation. There are families like hers in Columbia. Krystal's mother is a drug addict, but she didn't just wake up one day and decide to be. That's not how these stories go, but many of them end with social worker visits and a battle for custody of children involved. This led the discussion to one question. Should taxpayers help those who don't help themselves?
If we step away from politics, we are awed by Rowling's skill as a writer. She knows each of her characters. She knows their intimate details, their secrets and what they are hiding from other members of the town. She reveals how much one person dying can have an impact on each and every one of the other members of the town. She uses Rihanna's song, "Umbrella," to underscore the theme of refuge.
"Kids know everything," Jean said. She's right. They know parents' secrets and as "The Casual Vacancy" reveals, everyone's got a dark side, it's just a matter of time before yours gets reported online by a ghost.