Book Review – The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy is not Harry Potter. This obvious fact needs to be stated because, I’m willing to bet, 90% of The Casual Vacancy’s readers have picked it up because of the author’s name. I certainly was one of them – driven by a certain curiosity to see what else J.K. Rowling can do.

Of course I knew that The Casual Vacancy had nothing to do with the world of Harry Potter and Hogwarts but I hoped some of the magic that Rowling created in those novels would trickle into this story. It didn’t. It’s not even Harry Potter and the Parish Council.

The Casual Vacancy is a very British story. It takes place in a small English town called Pagford and its central drama focuses on a parish council. Like I said, it’s very British, and not just because they use the words “shag” and “fag” in ways we in North America most definitely do not.

The story begins with the sudden death of Barry Fairbrother, due to an aneurysm. Fairbrother’s death opens up a spot on the Pagford Parish Council, the decision-making force in this little village. We learn that the Parish council is decidedly divided over a couple of key issues and that who replaces Fairbrother on the council could have a huge influence over these issues.

The novel revolves around several characters with inter-connected lives, as people in small towns so often have. (Though, I have to say, I live in a small town now and I don’t find that people are quite this involved in each other’s lives. Or I’m better at boundaries than these folks.) For the first couple of chapters, the number of characters introduced and their relationships to one another is confusing. It took me a while to be sure of who everybody was and even later on in the novel I had to pause and remind myself of connections.

It is, perhaps unfair, to compare The Casual Vacancy to the Harry Potter series and, yet, it’s also unavoidable. The problem though, for me, didn’t lie in the fact that Harry Potter doesn’t make an appearance in The Casual Vacancy or that no one performed any magic. I expected those things. The problem was that Rowling couldn’t make me care about any of the numerous characters the way that she made me care about Harry and his friends and classmates.

I’m not any sort of huge Potter fan but I read each of those seven books with a sense of urgency. The writing was smooth and fluid and I sped through them, longing to know what happened, hoping that all would turn out well for Harry. I didn’t particularly care how things turned out for the residents of Pagford. I wasn’t even sure who I was supposed to care about.

I think Rowling fell victim to a common problem among writers today. In an effort to create a “realistic” tableau of life in the modern, she created a number of “realistic” characters, none of whom are likeable. No one was kind to their mother. No one was loyal to their friends in an unselfish manner. No one was happy in their marriage. (That last one gets me especially, when authors seem unable to portray a healthy romantic relationship.)

Realistically, yes, people are flawed. People are unpleasant and they snap at each other and they do many things out of selfish ambition. But people are multi-faceted and lovely and have beautiful smiles and may be rude to a waiter and then go home and say exactly the right thing to their daughter who just failed a chemistry exam.

The great thing about Harry Potter – and so many fairy tales – was that we knew who we were cheering for. Even when Harry was annoying (and in the 4th and 5th books he was definitely annoying) and made mistakes and was unkind to his friends, we cheered for him. Because we’d seen that he was the good guy and we wanted him to win. I know that real life isn’t as simple as all that. There are many great novels where the good guys do not win or where the lines between good and evil are blurred. But Rowling hasn’t done that in The Casual Vacancy. Rather, she’s given us a bunch of fairly unlikeable characters, asked us to follow them through a few weeks in the life of their town, and then given us a frustratingly vague and yet overly-coincidental ending.  There’s nothing to be learned, there’s nothing to be gained. I probably cared less about the characters at the end of the novel than I did at the beginning.

If you’re looking for a great novel about life and relationships, go read The Brothers Karamazov. If you’re looking for something fun to absorb you, stick to Harry Potter.

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Bachelor Sean – Episode 9

Finally, the ickiest episode of The Bachelor. The one where they travel to a foreign country and show their ignorance of that country’s customs. Oh, wait, no, I mean the episode with the “fantasy suites” where Chris Harrison sets up a weird situation.

Sean arrives in Thailand and tells us, “It looks like something out of a movie.” First of all, there is a movie set on the beaches of Thailand and it’s called The Beach so maybe that’s what you’re thinking of, Sean. Secondly, why is this always the statement goes to. Maybe if I were in space or somewhere fictional like Fern Gully, this would be a valid response. In Thailand? No. It doesn’t look like a movie. It looks like a real part of the real world.

Oh, no, Sean wears a tank top and wanders around some sort of tropical compound. His voiceover tells us what a big decision he hast to make, how difficult this is, etc, but on screen we see him looking pretty relaxed in a hammock.

Sean recaps his remaining three ladies:

  • Ashlee is the strongest relationship, apparently. Sean likes that he doesn’t have to guess how she feels. That’s probably because she keeps yelling it aloud.
  • “I thought Lindsay could be crazy and not a good crazy.”
  • [Lindsay] is one of those girls who never seems to have a bad day. And I love that about her.” That seems like a dangerous statement to make so close to engagement. Real people have bad days. And when you’re married you have them in front of your spouse so you should be able to deal with each other’s bad days and bad moods.
  • I can’t remember what he said about Catherine. I think it was nice.

Date #1: Lindsay

Sean and Lindsay visit Si Kao Market (Sean pronounces this as “sea cow”). They eat bugs and then go to Yongling Beach, also known as Monkey Beach. Because there are monkeys there

“You’re the best friend that I’ve been looking for.” Sean to Lindsay. So he came on this show looking for both a wife and a best friend. Dude, why can’t you meet any one in normal social circumstances?

“A lot of the things I was worried about faded away.” – Lindsay. Like AshLee and Catherine? Because I’d still be worried, if I were you.

Sean wears the swim shorts that they bought at the market, which I kind of loved because they’re pretty ugly. I’m surprised that they fit him. In my experience (as an averagely-sized Caucasian woman), nothing in Asia fits me.

They feed monkeys and I worry that they may not realise that if you pet certain types of monkeys you can never donate blood again. Did they investigate this matter before?

I don’t want to be mean but did it seem like Lindsay had trouble reading the fantasy suite invitation aloud? Maybe she was just nervous but she did not come across as a confident reader. Which is weird because she’s a teacher.

“I wanted someone who was funny, compassionate, and loving. And you’re both those things.” – Sean. That was three things, Sean. Or is Lindsay only two of those characteristics?

Lindsay says, “I love you.”

Sean say, “I love hearing you say that.” Ouch.

Date #2: AshLee

“AshLee told me a number of times she’s falling in love with me.” – Sean, who doesn’t seem that stoked.

AshLee and Sean have to swim through a cave to get to a private beach on the middle of an island. Of course, AshLee turns this into a metaphor about trust and being abandoned. Honestly, I would be freaked out too because I’m not that into dark, small places but I also think this would be so cool. What I was really focused on though was that I’m pretty sure my parents have been to that exact spot. (Mom, if you’re reading this, you guys did this in Thailand, right? They left from Pakmeng Pier, if that sounds familiar?)

Over dinner, AshLee and Sean discuss marriage and why they are both still single. AshLee says, “I’m glad I waited.” Except, uh, she’s totally been married before. She got married at 17 which is the exact opposite of waiting for marriage.

“My heart wants to spend time alone with him.” – AshLee

“I knew you had a really special heart.” – Sean, to AshLee. Sounds like Sean and AshLee’s heart are connecting better than Sean and AshLee herself.

AshLee then goes on to describe what she wants in an engagement ring to Sean and tells him her ring size. Now, in the world of the Bachelor this seemed very forward. In the real world though, a few weeks before getting engaged, this is pretty reasonable, I think. Peter and I looked at rings together before we were engaged and I got measured and told him my ring size. (Fun fact: When Peter got my ring sized and told the jeweller my finger size, they asked him how old I was and if I weigh less than 100 pounds. I do not.)

Date #3: Catherine

They cruise around on a junk! I’ve always wanted to go on a junk!

Sean says he’s missed Catherine. Has he said this about anyone else?

“Snorkelling is awesome.” – Sean. I feel like he should wear this on a t-shirt.

“I feel like Catherine gets me better than anyone else.” – Sean

“I could see myself marrying you.” – Sean to Catherine. Whoa, is he allowed to say that? He seems to be making some pretty strong statements about Catherine.

“Sometimes it feels like we’re never alone.” – Sean, who seems to just now be noticing the camera crews.

They have a sweet moment when Catherine shares that she isn’t necessarily that comfortable with her body and never thought a guy like Sean would be interested in her and he tells her she’s “smoking hot”.

Rose Ceremony:

“I woke up in the morning knowing who I need to send home…It almost breaks my heart.” – Sean. Almost, but not quite.

As Sean chats with Chris Harrison (who gives such fine advice as “Make the right decision”) it seems as if he already knows his final choice.

AshLee does not receive a rose. She walks out of the rose ceremony without a word to Sean and simply stares him down as he says good-bye. After telling us that Sean has healed her brokenness, I feel like she isn’t going to handle this very well. I think either she’ll be broken-hearted and pine over him or she’ll decide from this moment that she hates Sean and be very bitter over the whole thing. The look on her face says she hates Sean.

We’re down to the final 2 ladies. Who’s it gonna be?

Homesite Creek Hike

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On Saturday morning Peter and I explored the Homesite Creek trails. This looping hike is just a few minutes up the highway from where we live.

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You can’t really complain about the rain when it means you get to live in the middle of such green lushness.

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A fallen tree seems to have diverted the creek a bit. That or the tree pictured below has grown out of the creek.

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The falls.

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The double falls reminded me a bit of Niagara Falls. On a much, much smaller scale of course.

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Old-growth stumps with springboard notches. Slain giants.

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Mushrooms are weird. But cool.

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Every time I go hiking I am so thankful for my $15 hiking boots. One of the best thrift store finds ever.

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Woodpecker activity.

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And home again.

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Views From The Deck

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Not to keep harping on my awesome view but…we have a pretty killer view. The fun part though is that it’s different at every hour of the day. The tide changes, as tides do. It swirls in and out around that rock in the centre. To the right of where the above picture is, a fresh water stream enters the ocean.

That rock in the middle is almost always covered in birds. Most often seagulls (the rats of the sea) and lots of ducks. This week we saw geese (Canadian, obviously) for the first time. And occasionally we’ll see some Blue Herons. (I have also seen a lot of Stellar’s Jays around lately, though not near the water.)IMG_0261

The birds are pretty entertaining to watch.

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Does anyone know what these white and black ducks are called? We see them a lot here.

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Sometimes, we just watch the sunset.

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Thoughts on the last 3 Bachelor episodes

A week and a bit without internet somehow ended up meaning I missed three episodes of The Bachelor. It was somewhat exhausting to catch up but obviously I can’t miss a moment of Sean’s quest to find true love! (Yeah, I definitely had it playing in the background while I did other stuff, though I sat riveted watching Tierra explain how she can’t control her eyebrow.) In three episodes we watched the blondest bachelor go to Montana, Alberta (let’s be more specific than “Canada”, please) and St. Croix. Having no desire to either recap or capture quotes from three episodes, here are a few random thoughts:

  • Did they have to make Canada look like the coldest place in the world? Sheesh. I’ve been to Lake Louise and it’s hardly Antarctica. The Columbia Icefields (I’ve been on a snowbus there too!) is pretty cold but you’re on top of a glacier.
  • Also, I’ve swum in a few glacier-fed lakes. It’s not really a big deal. I have never had an EMT standing by. (I couldn’t tell if that was for liability of drama.) 0 degrees Celsius is cold but not that cold.
  • That said, Lake Louise really is beautiful. I was there in 2009 with my friend, Jeannette. Here’s a picture of us:

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  • Maybe I can’t argue about Canadian stereotypes when we are both wearing plaid in this picture. Regardless, our trip was more fun than the Bachelor because a) neither of us pretended to get hypothermia and b) we have never dated the same guy at the same time.
  • I was jealous that the Bachelor ladies got to go canoeing on Lake Louise. They were such bad canoers (canoeists?). It was hard to watch. Much more painful than the volleyball competition because I am a better canoe-paddler than I am volleyball-player.
  • What was the deal with the goat’s milk? Why is drinking goat’s milk so terrible? That didn’t seem very challenging to me. I’ve never drunk goat’s milk but I love goat cheese.
  • Why haven’t they left North America on this season? Can Sean not travel overseas? Too many concussions?
  • I hope we all learned a valuable lesson from Sean and his sister: Don’t choose a spouse who can’t be friends with people. Sure, being friends with other girls who are dating the same person is an unusual situation, but in your life you will have to interact with many types of people. You want someone at your side who can make those interactions easier. Also, someone who can control their face.
  • I liked Lesley but I feel like she’s probably already over it.
  • Selma: you’re allowed to hate both the desert and cold weather but you can’t give “being from Baghdad” as an excuse for both.
  • Thoughts on the final four: I think Desiree is the best choice/most stable woman. Catherine is probably my second choice. AshLee seems lovely but, I think, has a lot to figure out for herself before looking to any man to fulfill her. I’m already worried about the heartbreak she will (likely) experience. Lindsay…I have nothing bad to say about her, she just doesn’t seem that grown up to me. Also, what is a 2 star General? Lindsay keeps referring to her dad as one. To me it sounds like a General with poor reviews. I stayed in a 2 star hotel once and it wasn’t a good thing.
  • Thoughts on next week: I’m calling it right now – Desiree’s brother will not actually be as crazy as the previews are making him out to be.

Happy Discount Chocolate Day!

Hope you all got to do precisely what you wanted on Valentine’s Day! Whether that was a romantic dinner with a special someone or eating cheap chocolate while watching The Bachelor.

This is what I got on Valentine’s Day:

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Rather than flowers, Peter decided to get me “a bouquet of snacks”. The man knows I love junk food. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many Oreos I ate while Peter was at work yesterday.

Also, that Young’s Double Chocolate Porter on the left is so good. We had it in Seattle for the first time last year but it’s a British beer. It might just be my favourite beer. The beers on the right are random Russian and Polish beers that we had never tried before.

For dinner I made heart-shaped falafels (ie: more like blob-shaped, really, but I attempted) with chipotle mayo. Yummy. Clearly, Valentine’s Day is all about the food for us!

Have a lovely Friday!

Our New Place

As mentioned, Peter and I have moved! We are now living in a converted boathouse, about 20 minutes outside of Sechelt (maybe closer, maybe further, depending on who you’re driving behind on the highway!) For the past seven months most of our stuff has been in storage so it’s been a fun couple of weeks of settling in and making this place home.

We’ve been so blessed in our “drifting” of the last few months. Between house-sitting and staying with my in-laws, we’ve been able to get to know the Sunshine Coast and find stability in unpredictable ways. It has been a huge blessing. Now, though, I’m excited to really make a home here on the Coast. We’ve been blessed once again in finding a terrific place. I can’t even describe how taken care of by my God I feel. It’s the neatest experience.

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When I was a kid there was a little yellow bungalow around the corner from us that I thought was the cutest house in the neighbourhood. I always wanted to live in a yellow house.

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But really, it’s all about the waterfront! By boathouse, I mean…boathouse. This was taken from our living room. In the morning, when the tide is high and the water is clear, we can watch the ducks dive below the surface of the water.

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This is the route I take to work.

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I actually cross a footbridge and take a trail through the forest.

Here are some shots around the house/things I’m enjoying:

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Vern the Asparagus Fern in his new spot. He’s getting a little large. I think when the summer comes he will be spending more time outdoors. Vern loves the sunshine.

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A gorgeous bookshelf, made by my talented husband and a beautiful, handmade quilt that we received as a wedding gift. It took us about a week to agree on where the chesterfield should go. (Which, incidentally, is not where it’s shown here.)

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French faucets installed by someone who, I think, did not realise they were French. Because that froid tap definitely runs chaud.

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A jar of sea glass and my vintage, thrifted train case on a shelf in the washroom. (My mother-in-law has an amazing collection of sea glass and I’m excited to start my own!)

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European-sized washer and dryer! Appliances in Europe (at least in my experience) were generally considerably smaller than here in North America. I have no problems with this washer and dryer, I’m just thankful that we have them in-house.

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Our picture wall/entrance. A few wedding photos, a few family photos, a couple that are just special to us. And, of course, lots of books. We think they make us look smart.

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This has nothing to do with moving but isn’t this a perfect looking orange? Doesn’t it look like it belongs somewhere warm and sunny?

This orange is an example of why I love living on the Sunshine Coast. We were grocery shopping on the weekend and ran into people we know (something that happens frequently at the grocery store) and they told us to buy these oranges. It was good advice.

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The public pier, which we can see from our windows. Also, trying out the zoom lens to investigate why a tugboat has docked there.

And a few pictures taken in our “front yard”.

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Chinese New Year in Halfmoon Bay

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Celebrating the new year of my Mother Land!

I’m a complete Chinese food snob, which means I love it but I never cook it. I know what real Chinese food should taste like and I can’t match up to my own expectations. But Chinese New Year demands Chinese food. This was my entirely-unauthentic approximation. The tea was Chrysanthemum (my favourite) and really was from China, as were the lanterns.

Still Kicking

I haven’t fallen off the face of the Earth, despite my lack of posts lately. I have, however, moved! Internet should be hooked up this weekend.

In the meantime, enjoy this picture of the view from my living room!

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Yep, so insanely blessed!

(Also, I have not yet watched the most recent episode of The Bachelor so if anyone tells me what happens, I will be sad.)