I Prefer Men to Cauliflowers

book reviews, and photos of my dog

I’ve just rediscovered some of my old art from school. Some of it was pretty standard:

Some of it was alright:

Some of it I’m actually pretty proud of:

But most of it was like this: 

crying with laughter. Easiest ‘A’ I’ve ever got.

If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.

—Yann Martel, The Life of Pi

The Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling

I read my first Harry Potter book aged 7, mere months after its publication. I was an early acquaintance of this series, due to the hero sharing the name, exactly, of my father’s best friend. Like Harry, I became one of those angst-ridden teens, battling dramas with my best friends, striving for better marks in my OWLs, and coming to terms with a mysterious prophecy involving the greatest dark wizard who ever lived (or something like that).

With this series, Rowling and her publishers created an unstoppable force (or so we thought, ahem, 50 Shades); its prevalence still evident today in Pottermore (and the number of people I saw dressed as wizards at Kings Cross on September 1st this year…) So how would her first ‘non-Harry Potter’, her first ‘adult’ novel compare?

Not well, it seems. Negative reviews appeared almost immediately, criticising her for her narrow-minded view of middle-class England (the novel being nicknamed ‘mugglemarch’), and cliched tropes. However, I held out until I completed the book (on a miserable train heading into smoggy London last Friday) before passing judgement.

But what would I, a 21 year old girl, have in common with the residents of Pagford, where her novel is set? Pagford is populated by middle-aged middle-class busybodies and teenagers, with a couple of junkies thrown in for good measure. When my friend told me that Rowling announced at the Southbank Centre that she named a character Robbie because ‘his mother seemed like the kind of woman who would like Robbie Williams’, I thought I would find identification here. Wrong. Robbie’s mother, Terri, is a drug-taking prostitute, and is perhaps the least rounded character in the whole novel. The teenagers were too tormented, or too rebellious for me to sympathise with, although I enjoyed the ironic comments about ‘authenticity’ from Fats. (Rowling was seemingly mocking quite a few Postmodern thinkers I spent my time at University laughing at.) I will just have to dowith my namesake Miss Oates, who appears once as a teacher trying to sort out Krystal Weedon, who has confusingly just pretended to wet herself.

Despite having no character to identify with, why then do I feel myself drawn to the residents of Pagford, long after finishing the last pages? Rowling makes none of her characters particularly likeable, and there is no ‘good’ and ‘evil’ like in Harry Potter; there is no hero to speak of, and no single villain. She presents a more realistic world-view, tinged with melodrama, but it is the magic (yes, I went there) with which she creates her novels that makes them so captivating. Pagford, for all its cliches and stereotypes, seems real. Her characters are so alive, so full (excluding Terri, as mentioned before), that they really do seem to live exclusively of the pages they are written onto. Barry Fairbrother is introduced to us in the first lines and is spoken about continuously, yet I was astonished to find out near the end of the novel that he has ginger hair. Physical descriptions do not matter, it is the complexities of thoughts and their actions which give Rowling’s characters life. She will never be known for being a master of words or a weaver of poetry, but her ability to create and to invite readers to get lost in a fictitious world is second-to-none.

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

Not since Harry Potter has an author created a magical world so easy to get lost in. And Morgenstern does so over the course of one book, rather than a series of seven. Her story primarily focuses on a young boy, Bailey, who comes across (and becomes absorbed in) a Night Circus, within which are forces that few understand. We, like the protagonists, are kept in the dark as to the true nature of the circus, and ironically, the circus only exists in the ‘dark’, opening at sunset and closing at dawn.

However it is not the story or plot itself which is so compelling, but the rich and lustrous imagery Morgenstern creates - I found myself sometimes wishing the circus to be real. The reader themself becomes a ‘rêveur’ (a fan, who follows the circus around the globe). So sensuous, the fantastical elements fuse with our own perception of reality to create a fine example of magic realism. I was left with the feeling that this novel would make a beautiful piece of film - and that is no bad thing in this case!

The basic plot revolves around an age-old quarrel, with generations of humans used as pawns in the ‘game’; it is simple, but effective as a gentle pathway through the magical circus. Despite its sometimes cliched phrases and literary constructs, the world presented is so real that it is inclusive for the reader. We are not left at the gates peering in, but through observation, we participate (the award-winning marketing campaign reflects this http://www.nightcircus.co.uk), and are left with a highly readable novel, whose illusion remains long after the final pages.

Obama girls have good taste. Was given Lauren Oliver’s ‘Delirium’ about a year ago and dismissed it on grounds of its cheesy cover and tagline. Read it over the summer and was pleasantly surprised - now I read a lot more YA Fiction.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Obama girls have good taste. Was given Lauren Oliver’s ‘Delirium’ about a year ago and dismissed it on grounds of its cheesy cover and tagline. Read it over the summer and was pleasantly surprised - now I read a lot more YA Fiction.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Already excited for Wembley

Already excited for Wembley

Saddest goodbye ever

Saddest goodbye ever

More dog

More dog