“Life, what is it but a dream?”
– Final lines of Through the Looking Glass (1871) by Lewis Carroll
I am reading her first book about politics, but J.K. Rowling has always written about the casual vacancy. Farther back than any of us realized, with Quirrell. His death was sudden, announced by Dumbledore. True, he was a villain, but that didn’t make it any less so.
Goblet of Fire is the quintessional example, however. From the past to the present, to the middle, to the end, all throughout, there is nothing but the casual vacancy. We hardly ever get a break.
I am sure there are casual vacancies in the final three. I have been spoiled for them, though I have not read them.
This book is the first time, however, that Rowling actually named her book “The Casual Vacancy”, and spoke personally about the casual vacancy.
Barry Fairbrother was the first example, obviously. Though I have not completed it, in the chapter I am reading, Nana Cath, too, has died. It is not a casual vacancy in this case, but it is nevertheless a vacancy,and its suddenness has the effect in the characters of a “casual vacancy”.
Tom Riddle, Sr., Mr. Riddle, Mrs. Riddle, Frank Bryce, Cedric Diggory, Bartemius Crouch, Sr., Bartemius Crouch, Jr., Barry Fairbrother, Nana Cath. I read of all of these characters’ deaths without any special feeling. I read the characters’ mourning of them merely with thoughts that the reactions were realistic. I did not feel their suffering. Now, now I do. I knew how real Gavin’s reaction to his friend’s death was, but I didn’t feel his pain. Now I do.
I received a call not one hour ago from my father informing me that my adopted grandfather has passed away.
It isn’t much of a shock, really. Every time you looked at him you had the feeling he would be dead soon. He had diabetes, but he smoked constantly, and never quit as far as I know. Once he passed out on the floor and my grandmother had to give him an insulin injection. His memory was weak to the extent that he at one point forgot about the police coming around for some reason, or I believe it was kept for him. It was a confusing matter, and I was young.
And I didn’t know him very well, either. I just learned that he was born in 1955 and where he went to high school by looking at his obituary.
All he did was sit in his arm chair and watch TV and smoke cigarettes every time I went there. Occasionally he would hobble around.
I expected this to happen, really. I imagined it happening. I imagined many people’s deaths recently, and my being informed of them, and I wondered how I would react when they happened in real life. During my recent battles with depression, I told myself that I wanted to live to see everybody else die. I thought of this when my new cousin was born a few days ago. And now I’ve got a start on it. I imagined going in to see them and asking Nana where he was. And she told me, “Papaw died.” And I would kneel before the chair where he so often sat.
I knew it would be reality some day. I wondered even today of the day when my grandparents’ smoking would catch up with them. Granted, I haven’t heard that he died from smoking yet, but it’s likely this is the case.
I thought in the recent days about when do people die of smoking. I looked up the ages of the famous people who’ve died of smoking. Nearly all the cases are in 60s and 50s. The youngest I found were George Orwell at 45 and Jim Varney at 50. And my grandfather was 57, as I just found out now.
I imagined in recent days my sister saying that people act like smoking will kill you, but Mom, Nana, and Papaw are still alive. (She probably wouldn’t have said this in real life as she is very anti-smoking.) And I imagined that I told her to be quiet not to say that because she’ll jinx them and it’s very likely it’ll end up happening. And there, she laughed me off.
And I imagined that he would die, I wondered when it would happen, I imagined what it would be like when it happened, I thought even when I was looking at him he would die and I wondered whether he knew it. And today I thought that before I got the call, and I thought that he must think that he will die but at the same time be unable to take it seriously because he is alive, and I wondered when he would die. When the call came I wondered whether she would be informing me of his death. I had imagined her calling me to inform me of many people’s deaths, Nana’s, Papaw’s, and their dog’s (individually), and I wondered whether she might not call me at all, that she might forget, I worried. And I don’t know about the dog. I’ll ask.
I dreamed that my aunt had fallen on the sidewalk outside her house and broken her head a few weeks ago. Then I woke up and I went to my father and told him I wanted to see my aunt. He was awkward, and I knew it had come true. Then I woke up. I have seen her since then, she left a phone message, but she is almost seventy, and she is overweight, and her mother died at 77. I felt like it was real. I felt as if it had happened, that my dream had a premonition, and it has been. I imagined myself being informed of Papaw’s death, too, and I wondered what it would be like when it really happened, when I really got a call informing me that someone I know had died. And now it has happened. This is the real life. And yet I do not feel the suffering I did in my dream for my aunt! I feel like this is the dream, and I felt like that dream was real life when it happened! (My page quote is from Through the Looking Glass, a book which I will soon finish. And as all this lines up, I wonder is the afterlife real? Is there a higher power? I have suspected not, but I cannot be sure now.)
This may be because I was not close with him like I am with my aunt, and I will likely be equally grieved when she passes away in real life.
Yet I think, what little difference there is between the real world and the dream world, and your own imagination. And as I ran out down the road, across the pond and saw that it is all still there even as many died while I stood, how everything is exactly the same, as Pete Campbell on Mad Men did after his father’s death as I learned from TV Tropes and which I have been thinking about very much since then, and how nothing really matters, a theme brought up in Calvin & Hobbes strips I read before going to bed early that morning, which I had been thinking about before then, but which I had not thought of when I had read them the first time years before, and even two years ago. And I watched the new Big Bang Theory episode this week where, in a rare serious moment, Leonard pondered whether the world is just one hologram flickering at the end of the universe. I don’t know, maybe. It’d make as much difference.
I won’t be able to read the book for a while now. Please don’t be angry at me that I’m not reading “The Casual Vacancy”. I can’t, because I am living “the casual vacancy”.