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Turn of the Screw. Jamie Fraser. David Foster Wallace. Shakespeare. Well-constructed sentences. Leonard Cohen. Captain Wentworth. Neruda. Hemingway. Chapter 21 of Jane Eyre. Clive Staples. Tolkien. Melina Marchetta. Big, fat Russian novels. New words. And honey in my tea.

Currently reading

The Brides of Rollrock Island
Margo Lanagan
The Dream Thieves
Maggie Stiefvater
The New World (Chaos Walking, #0.5)
Patrick Ness

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling 3.5 stars. I know this book is highly anticipated and already widely reviewed, so these are just a few top thoughts of mine. I wanted to be absolutely blown away by this book. Without intricate world building, delicately woven themes and parallels and fate of the world type consequences, could Rowling make me care? And unsurprisingly, she did. Her characters are unbelievably sharply drawn. And that's what the book is about - these neurotic, self-obsessed characters. Each point of view is an intimate look into these folks who are uniquely strange, but universally flawed. It's all gossip and neuroses from the outset. And there isn't one character who's left unexposed or truly likable (can anyone be truly likable when they are fully exposed?). For instance, the first character we see, Barry Fairbrother, dies within the first chapter, and his death (and the vacancy he leaves on the small town's parish council) is the subject of the rest of the book. The picture you get of him in the start of the book isn't necessarily benevolent; he's evading and ignoring his anniversary and his wife in order to obsess over something to do with some girl named Krystal. But after his death, he's revered, his cause championed. Characters who seem to be on the side of goodness come out on his side. Except perhaps for his wife, who, even at the end, still thinks of her anniversary in sadness for her loss and anger at his ignoring her. You get the overall sense that he was altruistic, caring, ethical, hardworking and ambitious, but was he also near-sighted, aloof and a bit self absorbed? Probably. And that's how it goes with all of them. The caring, empathetic social worker is also a nag with terrible judgement when it comes to relationships. The good-natured, stoic, helpful guidance counselor is also spineless and self-serving. One of the worst characters in the book comes out with the happiest of endings. In other words, it's a book not about people who mess up, but people who are messed up. There are no clearly drawn lines between good and evil. And that's just the characters. She explores all kinds of sticky subject matter. I would caution some scenes against readers with triggering tendencies. Drugs, rape, cutting, shame, abuse, mental illness, humiliation, suicide. The last third of the book is rough. It made me feel unsure about the acerbic and witty way she dealt with these characters prior. Was I reading it wrong to find them silly and ridiculous? When I felt sympathy was I out of line? There is one shining redemption in the book, and I was glad of it.Would I recommend it? Yes. It's quite a portrait of community - the way we relate to one another outside our direct connection to a person and how that shapes our behavior. It presents a spotty mirror to one's self-absorption in a community where hiding isn't an option.