Friday, November 16, 2012

Where's Harry Potter?

I read the first Harry Potter long before it became such a phenomenon in the publishing world--Muggle or Wizard. Otherwise, I might never have started the series.  I often steer clear of books--or especially series--that seem trendy or faddish.  I'm glad, too, because I loved every one of the books.  I'll admit that I enjoyed all but the first two on audio, listening to the wonderfully talented Jim Dale creating all those different characters' voices.  More often than I like to admit, I sat in the carport waiting for a good stopping place.

When J. K. Rowlings' first "adult" book came out, I wanted to read it too, to see where she goes after Harry and Hogwarts.  I'm glad I read the book, and I think parts of it will stay in my head awhile, but I am so eager to talk to someone else who's read it too.

The book opens with the sudden death of Barry Fairbrother, suffering from an aneurysm as he and his wife were headed into the club for dinner on their anniversary.  As a member of a divided town council in the town of Pagford, his death leaves a "casual vacancy," requiring an election to fill his seat.  Rowling follows the lives in the town affected by Barry's death, most closely, the high school students one step removed, except for Crystal Weedon, a troubled teenage girl living the in controversial projects between Pagford and the larger neighboring town Yarvil.  Although she is first introduced as a brassy troublemaker at school, readers get to know her better in the home she shares with her mother, a recovering junkie, and the little brother Crystal protects and cares for.

Rowling takes readers inside the homes of the Walls, the principal and guidance counselor at the high school, and their adopted son Fats, bent on humiliating his father and living "an authentic life." His best friend Andrew Price, an acne ravaged teen, living with an abusive father, has developed a crush on Gaia, the beautiful new girl in town.  Gaia has moved, unwillingly, to Pagford with her mother, a social worker who came to live near her boyfriend Gavin--Barry Fairbrother's best friend--who is much less attracted to her once she moves to town. The threads connecting these and dozens more characters weave a tight web.

All the lives are intertwined, and Rowling's omniscient point-of-view moves fluidly among all the characters. No one, though, seems happy, even content.  Every character in the book seems to live in fear or to be plotting escape of some kind.

I was left with several questions:

First, did the book have to be so dark?  Honestly, the happy moments and the good relationships were so few.  In the end, I saw some hopeful glimpses, indications that at least some of the parent-child relationships (for those who were still alive, at least) might begin to improve.

Second, who was the protagonist?  I suppose I could envision the book as a Greek tragedy, since it ends in the classic scene of pity and woe, but I don't know that I truly identified with any of the characters.  I didn't even like some of them. Most of them.

All I need now, is someone else who's read the books so I can have an informed discussion.


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