THE CASUAL VACANCY by J.K. Rowling
Drug addiction, sex, rape, power, corruption and lies. This ‘adult’ novel seems a long way from the world of Hogwarts.
On the surface Pagford is a safe and sedate town; a place where buses “trundle” and where the delicatessen is “run with the ritual and regularity of a temple”.
However, beneath this veneer of respectability lies a festering, dog eat dog world of spiteful social climbers. Rowling revels in her mockery of the airs and graces, petty rivalries and back-stabbing. At the same time she shows a compassion for underdogs and contempt for bullies and braggarts.
As a biting satire of middle class aspirations it is often reminiscent of Mike Leigh’s 1977 stage play ‘Abigail’s Party‘.
This fictional West Country town symbolises a Daily Mail culture of smug NIMBY conservatism. Its self-centred “moral radiance” contrasts with the nearby town of Yarvil where the children are portrayed as “sinister, hooded, spray-painting offspring”. Continue reading
AMERICAN RUST by Philipp Meyer (Pocket Books, 2010)
Philipp Meyer is routinely likened to the blood and dust writers like Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy but the Baltimore-based author actually cites his own influences as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and James Kelman.
A point of connection between these British authors is that they all like to get inside the heads of their characters and that’s just what Meyer seeks to do in his debut novel. The story may begin like a state of the nation saga but evolves into a series of psychological portraits criss-crossing between two generations.
The two protagonists are men in their early 20s – Isaac English and Billy Poe. Isaac is academically gifted while Poe is a talented American football player. Their lives should be full of promise but are blighted by their own aimlessness and, more significantly, by a botched act of self-defence which gets treated as first degree murder. Poe takes the fall for the ‘crime’ while Isaac refuses to be swayed from hitting the road in some Kerouac style fantasy of being the “Duke of all hoboes”. Continue reading