I just finished J.K. Rowling's first novel since the series-that-need-not-be-named, also her only other novel.
I'm sort of in a state of just sitting here experiencing my own emotional and physical reaction to her novel The Casual Vacancy. (Does anyone underline books anymore?) If a book moves me, I consider it a successful reading experience, and this definitely was.
To be honest, I was completely bored with it at first. I have this arbitrary number of pages I choose to finish before I become suspicious of a book's capacity to move or entertain me. Sixty pages. If I get to page sixty and I'm not yet drawn in, anxious to get Knox to bed so I can read, stealing off to the tatami room to get in a few more pages, then... well, I don't throw the book into a fiery pit... I don't really do anything. I just keep reading, hoping it will get better. It takes A LOT for me to put a book down and not finish it. Once we've had two or three sittings together, I feel an untenable responsibility to finish the book.
So there I was at page 120, and I still didn't give a dang about any of the characters or what happened to them next. I've looked back through the book and I'm not sure what changed in the book to change my interest in it, except that Tessa Wall started getting more page time and she is a character I related to.
I'm glad I didn't disregard the book at page 120 because it ended up starkly illustrating how the apathy of people erodes lives, families, and communities. How turning a blind eye to someone who needs you might be nothing to your life, but everything to theirs.
J.K. gave an inspiring commencement speech at Harvard. I looked it up for some reason, and I could see the seeds of this book squarely in her words. She said much more and it's here and worth reading, but here is the gist:
"...those who choose not to empathise enable real monsters. For without ever
committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it,
through our own apathy."
After The Casual Vacancy, I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It was so dark and beautiful, he had me from the first paragraph. The thoughts of what the world might be like if almost everyone were gone, and what it might be like if nuclear war had destroyed most living things, these are intriguing in themselves. Lay the man and the boy against that backdrop just doing what they can, which isn't much, to keep surviving. When I finished the last page and closed the book I thought it was like a very long poem, so full each line of story. With some books, you can be sort of in the story and sort of reading words off the page at the same time. The experience fluctuates. With The Road I didn't feel those thin moments. My head was full of the picture and my heart was full of love and fear for the man and boy throughout every page. It's pure. Unaffected. I highly recommend it.