Tag Archives: Nihilism

The Casual Vacancy (J.K. Rowling)

JK RowlingI looked forward to reading this for quite some time, having very much appreciated Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The novel begins with the event which sets the whole story in motion. A man dies, and so must be replaced on the parish council of the little English village of Pagford. As the story proceeds, however, it is apparent that the village is riven with strife, power-struggles, competing moral visions, and disunity. The blurbs on the back cover refer to it as “a wonderful novel,” a “brilliant novel,” and a “great novel.” Beauty, I guess, is in the eye of the beholder.

If, as another blurb suggests, it is “a stunning … evocation of British society today,” and “a state-of-England novel driven by tenderness and fury,” I can understand the accolades. Still, I don’t know that I enjoyed it. But perhaps this was not a novel to be “enjoyed.” I found the novel somewhat depressing, being what I call a “gritty” story, an unvarnished and at times brutal portrayal of life in the small community. Rowling’s characters are coarse, nihilistic and deeply flawed; life, as the saying goes, is hard, brutish and short.

“Driven by tenderness and fury…” Perhaps the novel should be read as a novel of protest, a cry against the moral degradation afflicting western societies (not simply Britain). Rowling certainly attacks the “authentic” life, where “authenticity” is understood in self-centred and nihilistic terms. She is merciless in her attack on middle class moralism. Is Rowling furious?¬†Or is she simply having fun, deriding all the various groups that make up the community? I am not entirely sure, and Rowling is not about to preach. She does, however, make us mourn the tragic vacuity and waste of young life. She hints that the character of the dead man points to a better way.

I probably need to read it again to get a better sense of what she is doing.
What did you make of it?