Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"...and then she started to Facebook stalk..."

I go to fiction to escape, as cliché as that sounds.

For one thing, I get enough of real life.  I live it every day.  Books give me a way to forget that the real world exists for a while and get completely caught up somewhere else.

For another thing, I find that a social commentary is much more effective when you're so far removed from real life that you can start seeing the similarities.  Think Gulliver's Travels.  Or The Hunger Games.  Somehow, Katniss and Peeta's relationship wouldn't have been nearly as fascinating if they'd made it Facebook official.

All of this is leading up to the fact that I really hate references to pop culture or modern technology in books.  Yes I know, it's nearly impossible to escape.  And yes, I know even Shakespeare did it.  But my question is, if someone picks up a novel 50 years from now, will they know or care what Facebook is? Jay-Z?  Rihanna?  The song "Umbrella"?  I would argue, probably not.

So, the last two books I've read were George RR Martin's A Clash of Kings and JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy.  Georgey definitely is not guilty of mentioning pop culture in his novels (but I will admit that I'm really only hooked because of HBO, and I don't think that the writing is all it's cracked up to be).  A Song of Ice and Fire fits the bill, for me, because I'm transported somewhere completely foreign when I'm reading.  If George is making some sort of social or political commentary, I'm not paying enough attention to notice it--probably because I'm too busy flipping to the index of names in the back wondering "whose side are they on again?".  Regardless, I went into the series after watching two seasons of the series on HBO, I knew what to expect, and I got it.

I'd like to say I went into The Casual Vacancy with no preconceived notions, but that would be a lie.  How can one not have Harry Potter in the back of one's mind when picking up anything that says "JK Rowling" on it?  I'd argue that they can't.  Anyway, I know that this novel isn't fantasy, it isn't for children, and I'd read enough reviews to know that it's much darker and grittier than anyone expected.  On that front, I was not disappointed.  Where I was disappointed was the references to pop culture and modern technology that jarred me out of the small-town mysticism of Pagford and into my own daily life.  And I didn't like that.

I can play devil's advocate and say that these references are meant to jar us.  The crumbling Abbey in Pagford, the death of Barry Fairbrother, and the pop culture references, I believe, are all symbolic for the same thing--the deterioration of an older way of life and an uncomfortable, sudden transition into the new.  While the older, established Pagford residents cling desperately to the old, the younger intruders come steamrolling in with the new.  Do the references to Jay-Z, Rihanna, and Facebook cyber-bullying make that argument any stronger?  I don't think so, but maybe.

Overall, The Casual Vacancy didn't disappoint.  I read it in a day.  Couldn't put it down.  But reading about someone sending Facebook messages or playing "Umbrella" at a funeral definitely shocked me--and not in a good way.

1 comment:

  1. I feel the exact same way! I find myself incredibly disappointed when I see a modern day reference in a novel. And I think the same thing you do "No one is going to know that reference in 50 years. This author must not think s/he can stand the test of time".