Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

Ladies and gentlemen…hold onto your hats for a Book Blogging Bliss first…a nonfiction genre critique!

Ulrich Boser, a writer for the New York Times, the Washington Post and various other publications, devoted several years to solving the mystery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist. Boser’s research culminated in a 233 page book on the case, entitled: The Gardner Heist: The true story of the world’s largest unsolved art theft. The Gardner theft, which occurred over two decades ago, on March 18, 1990, is the largest art crime in history. The two thieves that broke into the Garner Museum in Boston on that fateful night in March so many years ago, stole a total of 13 pieces of artwork, valued at over $500 million. Among the stolen pieces were Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni, five Degas sketches, Johannes Vermeer’s The Concert, Govaert Flinck’s Landscape with an Obelisk, as well as Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee and A Lady and Gentleman in Black.

            Boser’s obsession to locate the missing Gardner artwork began after meeting Harold Smith, an independent fine arts claims adjuster (aka “an art sleuth who works for insurance companies”). Smith, in his five-decade career as a claims adjuster “had recovered lost Renoirs, exposed forged Da Vincis, and tracked down stolen Matisses. He had rescued a missing Stradivarius violin in Japan, hunted down the famous Janiece Christner collection of Faberge eggs” (13).  Despite all these brilliant successes, the Gardner theft was a case that haunted Smith for years; the recovery of the Gardner masterpieces alluded detection and the theft remained unsolved. To Smith, locating the missing masterpieces was a labor of love. He once told Boser, “There are hundreds of thousands of people who would be deprived of seeing that art. Losing that art is like losing our history, our culture. I want it back” (14). Boser, likewise found himself drawn to the mysterious Gardner case, and when Smith passed away several weeks after their meeting, Boser found himself “picking up where [Smith] left off” (14).

Ulrich Boser summarizes his journey to uncover the masterpieces in a fairly concise paragraph. He states:
“My search for the Gardner art would take me to four countries, a dozen states, and more cities and towns than I care to count. I would develop a deep and consuming zeal for the case. I would chase countless leads, stake out suspected thieves, and fly thousands of miles to interview underworld figures who swore that they could return the lost paintings. My life would be threatened more than once. And while I would unravel some of the biggest puzzles of the heist, I would eventually discover that the Gardner case wasn’t a mystery like the ones in movie theaters and Saturday afternoon TV specials, a cozy whodunit that wrapped up neatly at the end like an algebra problem. It was more like a mystery with a capital M, the sort of enigma that you find in church pews or philosophy lectures or on the canvas of an Old Master painting, something clear and compelling but also abstruse and obscure, something essentially unknowable” (14).

Throughout The Gardner Heist, Boser writes in greater detail about the missing artifacts from the museum, the robbery itself, as well as the leads he follows in an attempt to recover the pieces. As a reader who usually avoids nonfiction, I found this book to be very intriguing. Boser writes clearly and concisely and overall, his book reads like a novel. Although he includes a great amount of detail, I never found myself overwhelmed with facts. The topic of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist is compelling and beyond interesting. Not knowing a great deal about the heist before I started reading, I can certainly say that I learned a lot about the case itself as well as the history of the art underworld. Boser presents a myriad of interesting insights on the heist, but it is a bit disheartening to know that the Gardner theft to this day remains unsolved (especially after reading about the hours, months and years of hard work invested in uncovering these masterpieces by both Harold Smith and Ulrich Boser).

            If you have a chance, pick up this book and experience the mystery of the unsolved Gardner Heist!

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

I honestly can’t make up my mind or my heart about Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel, the Mermaid Chair. In my eyes, the Mermaid Chair certainly doesn’t live up to the magic spell cast by Kidd’s first novel, the Secret Life of Bees (which you should read if you haven’t already).

Much like my experience reading the Secret Life of Bees, it took me more than a few chapters to really “get into” the Mermaid Chair (and even then, my enthusiasm was still touch and go for the greater part of the novel). The Mermaid Chair essentially details the mid-life crisis of the central character, Jessie, who experiences a life-altering transformation through coming to terms with a past (and present) tragedy, in addition to having an affair with a monk. At its core, the Mermaid Chair is a story about the never-ending ways in which we as humans struggle to define (and redefine) ourselves with time. Jessie, a woman who is discontent with solely fulfilling her roles as both mother and wife, abandons everything for a love affair. She eventually realizes that she is really seeking a reinvention of self, and the space to grow into and to truly redefine herself.

There is a key phrase that is repeated within the novel: “a solitude of being.” Essentially, the phrase is referring to the human necessity to be alone and have the space to reconnect with oneself (a sort of self-discovery, if you will). I really believe that Solitude of Being (or something a little jazzier) would have encapsulated the thematic significance of the novel much better than the title: Mermaid Chair. While the “mermaid chair” itself does exist as a physical object (and an important one at that) within the novel, as the title, it seems to lack imagination and (let’s face it) it sounds blasé.

It appeared to me throughout the novel that Sue Monk Kidd tried to include too much in terms of her storyline. Right off the bat, readers learn about the strained relationships Jessie has with her husband and her mother, and her borderline obsession with the death of her father. Along with all of this, Kidd details the steamy relationship between the monk, Brother Thomas (including his back-story) and Jessie. To me, the fascinating theme in the Mermaid Chair is that of self-exploration and self-knowledge. It seemed as if the majority of the plot choices did not enhance or support this theme in the best possible way.

I can sum up the few additional problems I encountered along my reading journey in 3 specific points. Firstly, there was a very quick beginning and end to the affair between Jessie and Brother Thomas (or Whit, as he refers to himself outside of the cloistered setting). The whole affair seemed a bit too easy and untroubled…Neither Jessie or Brother Thomas appeared tormented or torn about the repercussions of their actions; and at the end, Kidd explained the entire affair away quickly and without much fanfare or introspection. The entirety of the affair was integral in the formation of both Jessie and Brother Thomas, but Sue Monk Kidd ignored the raw reality of an affair from the points of view of both characters.

Secondly, the novel itself appeared to lack consistency and order. Sue Monk Kidd devoted the majority of her novel to retelling the story from the point of view of Jessie (understandable…since she is the protagonist). However, Kidd also allowed Brother Thomas to share his insights and voice with readers in random chapters throughout the Mermaid Chair. And, near the end of the novel, Kidd even devotes one chapter to share the perspective of Hugh, Jessie’s husband. The chapters revolving around the perspectives of Brother Thomas and Hugh help to transform both characters from flat to round. I personally believe that the chapters which showcase Hugh’s voice as well as that of Brother Thomas gave validity to the story, and made both characters appear more relatable. In an attempt to allow readers to greater relate to the actions/ thoughts of all the characters, Sue Monk Kidd perhaps should’ve allowed Hugh’s voice (or even that of Jessie’s mother and father) to be heard from more often. To me, the delineation of narrative choices for each chapter seemed a bit haphazard and overall, ineffective.
            Lastly, Jessie retells the story of the summer of her affair in flashback form; the story that she weaves has already occurred. Personally, I think that the Mermaid Chair might have been more interesting and attention holding if it had been expressed in the present tense rather than through Jessie reliving her past memories.

I believe that a fantastic writer has the ability to make a reader feel down to the core of their being, a deep connection to a character’s situation and emotions; and a truly talented writer transports a reader to another time and place. And, to be completely honest, I remained firmly planted (mind, body and spirit) in my house while reading the Mermaid Chair (no transporting happened). On the other hand, I also cannot truthfully dismiss this novel; it was an imaginative story line and communicated a clear and important theme. Sue Monk Kidd is a good writer, but she didn’t hit this one out of the ballpark in my eyes.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Looking for a new novel to read!?

If you are ever looking for a FANTASTIC book to read, check out a few of my ABSOLUTE favorites!!:

The Last Letter from your Lover- Jojo Moyes
The Last Letter from Your Lover is a sophisticated, spellbinding, double love story that spans decades and thrillingly evokes a bygone era. In 1960, Jennifer Stirling wakes in the hospital and remembers nothing—not the car accident that put her there, not her wealthy husband, not even her own name. Searching for clues, she finds an impassioned letter, signed simply "B," from a man for whom she seemed willing to risk everything. In 2003, journalist Ellie Haworth stumbles upon the letter and becomes obsessed with learning the unknown lovers’ fate—hoping it will inspire her own happy ending. Remarkably moving, this is a novel for romantics of every age.

The Shadow of the Wind- Carlos Ruiz Zafon
In the postwar calm of 1945 Barcelona, ten-year-old Daniel Sempere awakes from a nightmare and, to his horror, realizes that he can no longer remember the face of his deceased mother. In an effort to divert his son's attention from this sharply felt fear and loss, his father, a rare-book dealer, first swears Daniel to secrecy, then takes him to a clandestine library where Daniel is allowed to select a single book.
Entranced, Daniel picks a novel, The Shadow of the Wind, written by the enigmatic Julián Carax, who is rumored to have fled Spain under murky circumstances, and later died. As Daniel begins to search for other works by his favorite new author, he discovers that they have all been destroyed -- torched by a mysterious stranger obsessed with obliterating Carax's literary legacy from the face of the earth.
Though Daniel's copy of Carax's novel is the last in existence, he's unwilling to part with it at any price and dedicates himself to revealing the truth about Carax.

The Help- Kathryn Stockett
Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who's always taken orders quietly, but lately she's unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She's full of ambition, but without a husband, she's considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town...

The Secret Life of Bees- Sue Monk Kidd
            Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina- a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable story about divine female power, a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.

While I’m at it, below, find a list of a few novels that I’ve been dying to read:

Eleanor and Park- Ranbow Rowell
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.

After Annie- Michael Tucker
Herbie Aaron is half of a celebrity marriage. He and Annie have been famous—and nobodies—and through it all they've been passionate, if not always constant, lovers and fast friends. But when Annie dies of cancer, Herbie is lost. If you think this is going to be a tragic tale about grief, think again. Herbie is too cantankerous, sly, and charming to keel over. Enter Olive, a beautiful bartender who just might be a great actress; Herbie and Annie's neurotic daughter Candy, and a woman named Billy, the tough-talking golf pro who teaches Herbie more about his psyche than about his lousy swing. After Annie is a beautifully rendered novel about a man off the rails, battling through the wilderness days he hoped never to face alone. It is a novel that examines the ruthless passing of time with clarity, heart, and wry brilliance.

Vandal Love- Deni Bechard
A family curse—a genetic trick resulting from centuries of hardship—causes the Hervé children to be born either giants or runts. Book One follows the giants’ line, exploring Jude Hervé’s career as a boxer in Georgia and Louisiana in the 1960s, his escape from that brutal life with his baby daughter Isa, and her eventual decision to enter into a strange, chaste marriage with a much older man. Book Two traces a different line of life entirely, as the runts of the family discover that their power lies in a kind of unifying love. François seeks the identity of his missing father for years, while his own son flees from modern society into spiritual quests.
In assured and mystically powerful prose, Deni Y. Béchard tells a wide-ranging, spellbinding story of a family trying to create an identity in an unwelcoming landscape. Vandal Love is a breathtaking literary debut about the power of love to create and destroy.

This Burns My Heart- Samuel Park
Chamara is difficult to translate from Korean to English: To stand it, to bear it, to grit your teeth and not cry out? To hold on, to wait until the worst is over? Such is the burden Samuel Park’s audacious, beautiful, and strong heroine, Soo-Ja Choi, faces in This Burns My Heart, an epic love story set in the intriguing landscape of postwar South Korea. On the eve of marriage to her weak, timid fiancé, Soo-Ja falls in love with a young medical student. But out of duty to her family and her culture she turns him away, choosing instead a world that leaves her trapped by suffocating customs.

In the Shadow of the Banyan- Vaddey Ratner
For seven-year-old Raami, the collapse of her childhood world begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours, bringing details of the misery and upheaval in the streets of Cambodia’s capital city. It is March of 1975, and the civil war between the US-backed government and the Khmer Rouge insurgency has reached its climax. Soon her family’s life of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution. Over the next four years, as Raami endures the deaths of loved ones, starvation, and labor camp, she clings to the only remaining vestige of childhood—the mythical legends and poems her father told her. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival.

City of Women- David R. Gillham
It is 1943—the height of the Second World War. With the men away at the front, Berlin has become a city of women.
On the surface, Sigrid Schröder is the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime.
But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman of passion who dreams of her former Jewish lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets—she soon finds herself caught between what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two . . .

Bee Season- Myla Goldberg
Eliza Naumann, a seemingly unremarkable nine-year-old, expects never to fit into her gifted family: her autodidact father, Saul, absorbed in his study of Jewish mysticism; her brother, Aaron, the vessel of his father's spiritual ambitions; and her brilliant but distant lawyer-mom, Miriam. But when Eliza sweeps her school and district spelling bees in quick succession, Saul takes it as a sign that she is destined for greatness. In this altered reality, Saul inducts her into his hallowed study and lavishes upon her the attention previously reserved for Aaron, who in his displacement embarks upon a lone quest for spiritual fulfillment. When Miriam's secret life triggers a familial explosion, it is Eliza who must order the chaos.

The Art Forger- B.A. Shapiro
On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art today worth over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

More Than You Know- Beth Gutcheon
In a small town called Dundee on the coast of Maine, an old woman named Hannah Gray begins her story: "Somebody said 'true love is like ghosts, which everyone talks about and few have seen.' I've seen both and I don't know how to tell you which is worse." Hannah has decided, finally, to leave a record of the passionate and anguished long-ago summer in Dundee when she met Conary Crocker, the town bad boy and love of her life. This spare, piercing, and unforgettable novel bridges two centuries and two intense love stories as Hannah and Conary's fate is interwoven with the tale of a marriage that took place in Dundee a hundred years earlier.

The Lost Wife- Alyson Richman
In pre-war Prague, the dreams of two young lovers are shattered when they are separated by the Nazi invasion. Then, decades later, thousands of miles away in New York, there's an inescapable glance of recognition between two strangers. Providence is giving Lenka and Josef one more chance. From the glamorous ease of life in Prague before the Occupation, to the horrors of Nazi Europe, The Lost Wife explores the power of first love, the resilience of the human spirit- and the strength of memory.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore- Robin Sloan
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.

The Light Between Oceans- M.L. Stedman
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.
Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

The Fault in Our Stars- John Green
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

*Descriptions courtesy of

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

Before ever finishing The Casual Vacancy, I started a blog post that read:

“I don’t want to be a debbie downer, but I really, truly am not a fan of J.K. Rowling’s newest novel: The Casual Vacancy. A self-professed admirer of the Harry Potter Series (it’s the series that defined my generation…probably along with Twilight and the Hunger Games), I expected a miraculously uplifting, and utterly inspired story from Rowling. What I have discovered however is a novel riddled with unnecessary foul language and overtly sexual scenes.”

I’m here to tell you however, that my initial reaction to Rowling’s novel was (if not completely wrong,) certainly misguided and inadequate. Although I started out feeling a deep sense of disappointment, disgust and boredom with The Casual Vacancy, somewhere along my reading path, my views drastically changed (I’m talking a 180 flip here…).

I firmly believe that before beginning this novel (and indeed, even while reading), it is necessary to:
   1.     Let. Go. Of. Harry. Potter. (The Casual Vacancy is NOT Harry Potter, and bears no similarities to the series)
           2.     Remove all of your expectations; truly treat The Casual Vacancy as if you were reading a novel by a first time author
           3.     Push past the pain…You may find yourself asking many times: Where is this novel going? But keep chugging along! You can do it!

Although I do not believe that The Casual Vacancy is the world’s greatest novel, I can say with certainty that it is both a surprising and revealing story. Essentially, the plotline focuses on the small English town of Pagford, and the interactions of its citizens after the unexpected death of Barry Fairbrother. Fairbrother’s death leaves an open seat on the Parish Council and as the town jockeys for the Council position, Rowling reveals the more profound issues underlying small town Pagford life.

I must admit that although I love the intention and the purpose behind The Casual Vacancy, I didn’t always love the route the Rowling used to get her point across. Reading this novel, it seemed to me that Rowling tried a bit too hard to distance herself from the adolescent literary genre. Just because a novel is “Adult”, doesn’t mean that there is a need for an abundance of profanity and sexual themes. A vast majority of scenes and sentences, in my eyes, were needless and superfluous. Rowling often ran over what was meaningful and veered in a head-on collision into overly excessive descriptors, which made the novel seem overdone and cheap. As a prime example, Rowling’s first description of Howard Mollison, a key character in the novel, follows:

“Though Pagford’s delicatessen would not open until nine thirty, Howard Mollison had arrived early. He was an extravagantly obese man of sixty-four. A great apron of stomach fell so far down in front of his thighs that most people thought instantly of his penis when they first clapped eyes on him, wondering when he had last seen it, how he washed it, how he managed to perform any of the acts for which a penis is designed” ((32).

See what I mean? Just a little bit too much unneeded information.

In contrast to the unnecessary sexual references and foul language, there are gems of sentences sprinkled throughout the novel, which to me, showcase the real and tangible talent of J.K. Rowling. She is an amazing writer, who just seemed to get caught up in making her novel “Adult.” I’ve included three of my favorite quotes from the novel below:

“He tried to give his wife pleasure in the little ways, because he had come to realize, after nearly two decades together, how often he disappointed her in the big things. It was never intentional. They simply had very different notions of what ought to take up most space in life.” (3)

“Everything had shattered. The fact that it was all still there- the walls and the chairs and the children’s pictures on the walls- meant nothing. Every atom of it had been blasted apart and reconstituted in an instant, and its appearance of permanence and solidity was laughable; it would dissolve at a touch, for everything was suddenly tissue-thin and friable.” (39)

“Every hour that passed added to her grief, because it bore her further away from the living man, and because it was a tiny foretaste of the eternity she would have to spend without him. Again and again she found herself forgetting, for the space of a heartbeat, that he was gone forever and that she could not turn to him for comfort.” (63)

It wasn’t really until I read the last page of the novel that I was able to comprehend the big picture perspective behind Rowling’s novel. The Casual Vacancy is a profound social commentary on the state of our world. Barry Fairbrother, although not a perfect man, was a man with a vision to make the world a little bit better; he was a man who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of those who lived in the Fields (a poorly subsidized housing estate that fell within Pagford Parish town lines). Having been raised in the Fields himself, Barry understood the complexity of rising above one’s environment; he understood the necessity of support and encouragement for families still living in the Fields. Controversially, other citizens of Pagford, did not feel the same, and deemed it an estate that drained town resources, with “nearly two-thirds of Fields dwellers liv[ing] off the state; and a sizable portion pass[ing] through the doors of the Bellchapel Addiction Clinic” (60). Not only did these anti-Fielders want to dismantle the Addiction Clinic, but they also wanted to vote the Fields into the Yarvil District town lines (in other words, they didn’t want to deal with or be responsible for the Fields any longer).

(Spoiler Alert coming up!!)

Barry Fairbrother during his life had a special connection with Krystal Weedon, a girl from the Fields, who attended school with his own children. While everyone else in the town seemed to write Krystal off as a truant, Barry was able to see her true potential. To Barry, Krystal was another “example of the successful integration of the Fields and Pagford” (62). Unfortunately, after Barry’s death, Krystal felt that she had no one to turn to for help or guidance; no one could truly understand her life. With a drug addict as a mother, Krystal raised her little brother Robbie, and discovered that she needed to depend on herself to keep her family together. However, throughout the novel, Krystal experiences a series of tragedies including rape and the death of not only her grandmother, but her brother Robbie in a drowning. At the end of the novel, Krystal decides to take her own life by overdosing on heroine.

The part of the ending that affected me the most as a reader was Robbie’s death. Only three years old, Robbie had wandered away from Krystal to subsequently fall and drown in a river. Surprisingly, any number of citizens in Pagford could have stopped Robbie’s death from occurring. Several people witnessed Robbie wandering around town the morning of his death, but surprisingly, not one of them stopped to make sure he was under adult supervision. One character, Shirley, states at the end of the novel to her husband’s business partner, Maureen: “The boy was right by the river when I saw him. A couple of steps and he’d have been in…I was hurrying…because Howard had said he was feeling poorly and I was worried sick…I was absolutely distracted, and all I could think was, I must get back to Howard…I didn’t actually realize what I’d seen until much later…and the dreadful thing” (488). And Samantha too saw Robbie, as she likewise explains to her husband Miles, declaring: “…Miles, I saw that boy. Robbie Weedon. I saw him, Miles…He was in the St. Thomas’s playing field when I walked across it that morning…He was all alone…I thought he’d come in there to play, but there was nobody with him. He was only three and a half, Miles. Why didn’t I ask him who he was with?” (493).

Almost every character in The Casual Vacancy shows the self-absorption that Shirley and Samantha reluctantly admit to in the final chapters of the novel. Any number of people could have saved Robbie that day, or even Krystal for that matter, but everyone was too absorbed in their own world and in their own problems to notice the bigger issues affecting those around them. Krystal lived with the mentality that she had to rely on herself and face the world alone; no one (besides Barry Fairbrother) took the time to reach out to her. Furthermore, many characters were too caught up in the politics (Pro-Fielders vs Anti-Fielders) of the Fields to understand the personhood behind the situation. To many, Krystal was a statistic instead of a person; she was a teenager who would wind up on the same drug addicted track as her mother.

It took the tragic death of Robbie and Krystal to make the citizens of Pagford look beyond their own self-interest (and political affiliations) to seek change and to want to make a difference for the betterment of those around them. (Unfortunately, in the case of some characters, tragedy didn’t move them toward action; they continued to remain complacent with the state of the world around them).

What I took away from The Casual Vacancy was two-fold: First, we must always seek to make the world better in both small ways and big ways (like Barry Fairbrother) without waiting for tragedy to propel us forward. And secondly, we must recognize the humanity in those around us, no matter their situation.

I vote that you take a shot and read this novel; after all, you might take away a different (life altering) message than I gleaned!