Thursday, 11 October 2012

Good and Bad

It’s an old maxim, but one which is still useful for challenging all sorts of prejudice: “There’s good and bad everywhere.”

Whenever a politician or a newspaper casts veiled hints that everyone in banking is a greedy criminal, or everyone living on benefits is a lazy burden, I become wary. Because such suggestions are obviously not true. Because there’s good and bad everywhere.

And that’s how I felt while reading The Casual Vacancy... wary. It’s certainly clever, with more than twenty detailed characters weaving their individual plot threads into a thoughtful story, and J K Rowling shows that she has more than one talented voice – that she can grip audiences in very different genres.

But it was difficult to shake that uneasy feeling, that wary sense that something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t the fact that there were no characters who I really liked – weak, spiteful, broken, or deluded – they might not be likeable, but they were certainly interesting and readable.

No, the thing that really bothered me was the way that, as the story developed, virtually all of the affluent characters were revealed to be vile people, with layer upon layer of rottenness seeping through their respectable veneers, while all bar one of the deprived characters had huge, repeated signposts to tragic events that had derailed what might otherwise have been good lives.

Three hundred pages in, I began to worry that it might be a purely allegorical piece, and whether all the disadvantaged people would be revealed as rough diamonds, with beautiful hearts of gold, while the middle class would be unmasked as universally cruel and evil – a “happy ending” for social idealists.

Fortunately, and to J K Rowling’s enormous credit, The Casual Vacancy didn’t do that. I don’t want to spoil the story, as it’s well worth reading, but the book eschews the fairytale ending and pantomime comeuppance. Because life isn’t like that. Because there’s good and bad everywhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment