I’ve just read J K Rowling’s novel for grownups Casual Vacancy. It was gripping at first and then got more and more unpleasant to read, but the basic story – about a pleasant village near a city and the tensions between the two, in other words about class – was interesting enough that I read the whole thing. (Usually I stop reading novels I don’t like. I know lots of people who seriously think that once you start a book you’re somehow obliged to finish it, no matter how much you hate it. I think that’s entirely and comprehensively wrong.)
I dislike her mind. It makes me feel dirty. Reading the novel made me feel dirty much of the time. She’s full of disgust, Rowling is, and she isn’t embarrassed to let it hang out. Lashings of physical disgust for many of the characters, renewed every time she mentions them. She piles it on, and as you turn the pages, it starts to mount up, and you feel dirty – at least I did.
The plot is – sort of – on the side of the lower orders, but the way she writes about them is the very opposite of that. The middle class characters who live in the village are all written in ordinary English, while the lumpen characters who live in “the Fields” – a housing estate between the city and the village, and loathed by most people in the village – are given a ludicrous dialect which consists of leaving out a great many letters. I thought novelists had stopped doing that in about 1905. It’s incredibly alienating, and it’s also silly – it pretends the middle class characters have no dialect and say all the words exactly as they are spelled. Yeah right.
This kind of thing is why I never liked Harry Potter, along with Rowling’s extremely uninteresting way with language. I went off Harry Potter early in the first book and never read more. I disliked her attitude to “the Muggles” and I disliked the simple-minded polarization of the houses at Hogwarts – and that’s when I closed the book and never went back.