Just because I’m being short and sweet about J.K.Rowling‘s The casual vacancy doesn’t mean I wasn’t impressed by it or didn’t enjoy it a lot. She’s not one of the great prose stylists and plot liberties of a factual kind are taken but I ceased to care too much about the clunkiness of the former or the strict accuracy of the latter as this tale of small town social life, politics and hypocrisy in Middle England increasingly got its hold on me.
The casual vacancy starts off like Middlemarch (without the intellectual pursuits but with teenagers), morphs into Dickens on his best moral high hobby-horse and finishes with a proud egalitarian flourish beyond the realms of either. The action revolves about the gap left in the community by the death of one Barry Fairbrother, prole made good who’s not about to forsake or sacrifice the chances of those left behind on the wrong side of the metaphorical tracks (I presume they lost the railway line in the Beeching era). There is a rich and varied cast of characters all with their own frustrations, while there’s a clever plot driver in a series of postings from ‘The ghost of Barry Fairweather’ to the parish council website and the repercussions they cause. It all works up to a very nicely paced climax of a birthday party at which much drink is taken; its aftermath and the related series of events that follow with devastating consequences make for a highly satisfying and bracing novel with more than just a big heart. She’s a fine storyteller who doesn’t sit on the fence and it’s good to know the book is selling so well. (I’ve not mentioned Harry Potter because – no excuses – those are children’s books.)
And so to the other stuff:
It’s that time of the year again. Morris sides in the High Street, the lantern parade, the fairground organ, the bumper cars, the raffle tickets and the turning on of the Stony Christmas lights. To which this year must be added the library open on a Saturday afternoon for Santa and the Bard’s hosting of a poetry event with readings from a lot of the usual suspects and more. I’d not seen former bard of Northampton Donna Scott give her entertaining exploration of the whys, wherefores and consequences of her given name before but was glad to do so now; and let us not forget The Antipoet again struggling with the concept of family friendly material. In its 50th year, the actual switching on of the lights fell to a well chuffed Danni Antagonist, the current Bard of Stony Stratford now nearing the end of her reign, whose celebratory ode is a good example of the way she has played it, placing trigger local events in a broader frame. Here’s the final verse:
So here’s to the illuminators
Who bring the vital spark,
Stay strong against the nay-sayers,
And fight back against the dark.
And so from Stony to the Stones, on a completely different tack. Watching Muddy Waters & the Rolling Stones Live at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981 had me feeling queasy and unclean. Some fine blues from Muddy Waters & his band until the Stones entourage turns up. And yes, I know, Muddy invited them up on stage and seems to be enjoying himself, and I’m fully cognisant of the part the Stones played in boosting his reputation and earnings in his homeland, but really – the sight of the prancing, gurning v-necked pink tracksuited Mick Jagger had me embarrassed, not knowing where to put myself … me and my generation. I’m still shuddering at the thought. Remember that caption in the NME about Freddie Mercury – one of that paper’s many finest moments: Is this man a prat? Yes, but never mind that. Regardless of the Stones’ undeniable heritage (by 1981, new output waning anyway), how did Jagger get away with it so long? Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, by the way – back at the Checkerboard – in the brief space given them, are magnificent.
And I’m still reeling, having moved from the thought that she looks familiar to the dawning then sudden realisation that … the woman paying Daphne’s awful mother in the still infinitely watchable Frasier is none other than my very first pin-up: Millicent Martin. Well, well.
Finally, nothing personal, but the news of the pregnant Kate & Wills has me shouting at the television. The prospect of 6 more months and years beyond of this drivel hijacking valuable news time coverage of events that might actually matter is daunting. Does Nicholas Witchell ever wake up and remember the time when he used to be a proper journalist? I keep asking rhetorically to the tv screen, “How old are you?” at the loosely ringletted and simpering ‘royal expert’ Kate Williams, when she’s a respected academic and author D.Phil, MA and a lot of other things too, so shouldn’t have to. You know, the one who looks like she wants to be painted by the Pre-Raphaelites. Isn’t it time this country grew up and ditched the whole notion of hereditary monarchy? Aren’t you embarrassed? Isn’t their suddenly becoming the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge just absurd? Did anyone ask Cambridge? As ever, American comedian Bill Maher hits the nail on the head in this quote from the New Rules section of his US tv show, broadcast at the time of their wedding:
Now that the royal wedding is finally over, the next person who uses the word fairy tale must be led into the woods by a dwarf, turned into a faun and be eaten by a witch … Now, Kate and Wills seem like nice kids but I hope at some point they say, “We just feel creepy about other human beings calling us Your Highness.”
Wouldn’t it be nice, but as Harry Hill might say, What are the chances of that? Meanwhile there’s http://www.republic.org.uk/ for some sanity and lots of intellectual ammunition.