The Man Who Died

27 Nov

*SPOILER ALERT! First, if you haven’t read Harry Potter yet, what’s wrong with you!? Second, if you plan on reading The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling you might want to read the first chapter before reading this*

A good opening chapter is crucial to any literary work, and with first chapters like “The Riddle House” (Goblet of Fire) and “The Other Minister” (Half-Blood Prince), this is definitely a skill J.K. Rowling masters incredibly well. But how do you open a book that is supposed to mark a break between previous and future work? And especially when the whole world is holding its breath in anticipation?

The very first word of the very first chapter in The Casual Vacancy is “Barry”. This character is central to every plot-line in the entire book. This is the person that unfolds the story and the main source of conflict. All the other characters are presented through their relationship with Barry. And Barry rhymes with? [Click here to reveal answer]

We soon learn that Barry is celebrating his nineteen year anniversary that day. Barry got married, and our story takes place Nineteen Years Later as he is on his way out to dinner with his wife. But Barry isn’t feeling very well that night, he has a headache that just keeps getting worse:

“Then pain such as he had never experienced sliced through his brain like a demolition ball. He barely noticed the smarting of his knees as they smacked onto the cold tarmac; his skull was awash with fire and blood; the agony was  excruciating beyond endurance, except that endure it he must, for oblivion was still a minute away.” (The Casual Vacancy, p. 4)

Sounds familiar? 

“At once, a needle-sharp pain seared across Harry’s scar; his head felt as though it was about to split in two” (Philosopher’s Stone, p. 213)

“And then, without warning, Harry’s scar exploded with pain. It was such as he had never felt in all his life” (Goblet of Fire, p. 553)

“Then Harry’s scar burst open and he knew he was dead: it was pain beyond imagining, pain past endurance -“ (Order of the Phoenix, p. 719)

As it turns out Harry doesn’t die, but Barry does. The opening chapter of The Casual Vacancy could just as well have been called “The Man who Died”. It is only two and a bit pages long, but the little nudges along with the brutal end serves as an effective and clever way to kill off the connection between Harry and any future Rowling works once and for all. Coincidences you say? I say you need to re-read your Harry.


4 Responses to “The Man Who Died”

  1. mysticcooking November 27, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    Interesting…I did not notice that when I read “The Casual Vacancy.” And I call myself a Harry Potter fan…embarrassing. 😉 What did you think of JK Rowling’s first venture into the adult market? Honestly, I thought Barry was the best, most likable character in the whole book, which was sad because even though he is the driving force behind all the plot lines, as you said, he certainly doesn’t get much page time.

    • Charlottes Net November 28, 2012 at 8:51 am #

      I think I have to wait a bit and read it again to find out what I really think of it. It was so hard not to compare with the Harry Potter books and think about Rowling’s motivation for writing it etc… Like you say, it’s not easy to sympathise with the characters and overall it is quite gloomy and gritty. That said, I enjoyed R’s style as much as always and I was captivated with many of the different stories. Look forward to her next one!

  2. Jeyna Grace November 28, 2012 at 3:09 am #

    Somehow even Barry and Harry has a name connection.. LOL

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