Monthly Archives:June 2018


Tigers fall into debt crisis

June 13th, 2018 / / categories: 江苏夜网 /

Tough going … Chris Heighington has moved on from the Tigers to play for the Sharks from 2013.WESTS TIGERS, who are believed to be in the hunt to recruit Penrith’s NSW Origin centre Michael Jennings, are expected to receive an advance on their share of the billion-dollar broadcast deal from the ARL Commission to help service a $2 million debt.
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The mounting debt is further bad news for Tigers fans. The joint-venture club’s recent decision to relieve Tim Sheens of his head coaching duties is likely to result in a hefty payout as he still had two years on his contract worth close to $1 million.

”They’re going to get a bit of an advance of the code’s new TV deal and that will help a bit,” a source said.

News of the debt has surfaced at a time when the Tigers released Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan to join Cronulla, while promising young centre Blake Ayshford was also told to find a new team. The suggestion that releasing the three popular players was due to salary cap pressure holds little water given the Tigers wanted to clear the decks to recruit Jennings and veteran Manly prop Brent Kite.

The Tigers, who were pre-season premiership favourites, also suffered an unexpected financial hit when they failed to make the finals, meaning they were denied a share of the lucrative bonuses paid to those teams who qualified for the end-of-season series.

While the insider said the debt in itself was not enough to suggest there were any immediate concern about the club’s finances, the source said it had the potential to deepen the old tensions between the team’s shareholders, Wests Magpies and Balmain Tigers. While the Magpies’ two licensed clubs at Ashfield and Campbelltown have been powering along, Balmain are deep in debt.

In May, The Sun-Herald was told by Andy Timbs, the then chief executive of the Balmain leagues clubs that are now based at the old Five Dock Bowling Club and at Flemington after the old club at Rozelle shut down, that it was becoming harder to meet their yearly $1.5 million commitment to the venture.

”Obviously, we’re half-owners of the Wests Tigers and obviously that would affect that,” Timbs said of the struggle before his sudden death in June. ”If we continue to operate away from Rozelle we’d find it hard to continue to support [Wests Tigers] but we do our best.

”We always come up with the money … and it is just getting harder and harder each year. It’s $1.5 million a year we need to come up with for football and it’s hard to get that sort of revenue if you haven’t got the big enough business to support it.”

Last week, Wests’ Ashfield director Rick Wayde mentioned the so-called ”elephant in the room” when he told The Sun-Herald there were genuine concerns about Balmain’s finances and that they might need to soon consider asking the Magpies for financial help in the running of Wests Tigers.

While Wayde would not be drawn into making any further comment about that issue during the week, he urged Magpies members and fans to attend a meeting at the Wests headquarters in Ashfield today to make it clear they wanted the Magpies represented in next year’s NSW Cup. There were plans for Balmain and Wests to form one NSW Cup team next season but Wayde said there was not only a desire for Wests to remain alive but Wests Ashfield had the $400,000 needed to support the team, despite three members said to be against it.

”The idea is to get as many people to attend and send the message to the directors,” he said. ”It doesn’t contravene the joint venture agreement because it’s specific that either Wests or Balmain can run a team in any competition outside of the NRL. And the bottom line is Wests Ashfield can afford it. If we couldn’t I’d be the first one saying, ‘Sorry we can’t do it’ but the club is trading well enough to fund it.”

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Eels poised to do some hard time

June 13th, 2018 / / categories: 江苏夜网 /

Digital mischief … the Parramatta Eels could be headed to jail, so to speak.Ricky Stuart could soon have a unique training base for his Eels … Parramatta jail. As the Eels prepare for a breakout season under their new coach, Sin Bin can reveal the decommissioned correctional facility is firming as their likely destination. ”We’re looking at a number of options for a training facility so that we can have our own one-stop shop and one of the options we’re currently considering is Parramatta jail,” Eels chief executive Bob Bentley said. ”We’re in discussions with state property people to secure a lease so we can put in a gymnasium, a boxing ring, mats and then run all of our operations out of the area. It’s only 500 metres from Parramatta Stadium and it would be an ideal location for us to set up a very high-performance unit, similar to a centre of excellence, where everything is contained in one area.” Arthur ”Neddy” Smith, Darcy Dugan and George Freeman are just some of the notorious figures who have called the prison, which was opened way back in 1798,home before its closure last year.
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Parramatta officials will be shocked to learn that their major sponsor, Pirtek, has been involved in secret talks to back arch rivals Manly. Sin Bin can reveal that Pirtek boss Glenn Duncan was recently involved in discussions to take a stake in the Sea Eagles. Pirtek were one of several parties that flagged their interest in shaking up the ownership model of last year’s premiers but ultimately opted not to proceed. It’s unlikely Eels powerbrokers would have stood for such a conflict of interest.


Sunday Sin Bin spies tell us Steve Kearney spoke with a Roosters official recently about an assistant’s role to new coach Trent Robinson, but the former Parramatta coach will reportedly join the Broncos’ coaching staff next season. The Chooks are close to finalising their support staff for next year, when their playing roster will be boosted by Sonny Bill Williams and James Maloney.


Manly are poised to bolster their pack with the signing of St George Illawarra forward David Gower. However, there is still uncertainty on how the Sea Eagles will line up next year. Salary cap pressure means the club may have to offload Brent Kite, but his switch to Wests Tigers is not a done deal. Parramatta-bound Manly assistant Matt Parish is the favourite to take over from Tim Sheens. Should he be successful, it is understood Kite is unlikely to figure in his plans at the joint-venture club.


We revealed last week that the AFL has attempted to poach Hazem El Masri as an ambassador for western Sydney. That news should have acted as a wake-up call for the ARL Commission bigwigs, but they are still to thrash out a deal with the Canterbury legend. However, an announcement is likely this week.


James Graham gets done for biting. Mike Tyson is coming to town. Are you thinking what Max Markson is thinking? ”I’m happy to extend an invitation to James Graham to meet Mike Tyson in Sydney on Saturday, November 17,” said Markson, who is promoting the Tyson tour. ”They can meet, have a photo taken and we can caption it, ‘Lend me your ears’.”


Adam Blair, a surprise omission from the New Zealand team, has been given a call-up after injury ruled Newcastle-bound former Cronulla forward Jeremy Smith out of the Townsville Test against Australia.


A fiery meeting is expected when Magpies fans front Western Suburbs District Rugby League Football Club officials at today’s ”information meeting” at Wests Ashfield Leagues club from 10am. With massive doubts about whether the Magpies will field a team in next year’s NSW Cup – Wests Tigers has called for the joint-venture to field only one side next year – it will be a chance for supporters to hear the recommendations of black and white powerbrokers.


They may not have a coach, but it hasn’t stopped Wests Tigers from re-signing players. Matt Utai has just signed a one-year extension with the club. ”He’s been in almost career-best form and has finished the season really strongly for them,” said Utai’s manager, Giancarlo Lombardo of GLT Sports Management. ”He’s looking forward to a big 2013.”


As we revealed back in July, Brett Finch will rejoin Melbourne next year. The announcement was officially made at the Storm’s awards night on Friday.


Steve Menzies was a surprise attendee at Manly’s presentation dinner on Friday night. The Beaver, who will play on into his 41st year for Catalan, stunned guests and officials when he flew in to present an award named in his honour.


Benny Elias moves in interesting circles. The Tigers great was spotted at China Doll dining with Crusty Demons star Robbie Maddison, outgoing FFA boss Ben Buckley, Hawthorn star Lance ”Buddy” Franklin and PR man Grant Vandenberg.


We recently revealed that Daniel Folkes, the son of former Canterbury coach Steve Folkes, allegedly urinated on a man during a night out in Sydney. Daniel, a former under-20s player for the Bulldogs, was charged with offensive language, offensive behaviour and resisting arrest. The matter has been adjourned until Thursday, although he isn’t required to front the Downing Centre Court if legally represented.


Most punters believe the judiciary got it right in handing James Graham a 12-week ban. However, recent history will show that the defendant in a much more serious ear-biting incident got a lesser suspension. North Sydney winger Mitchell Stevens copped only 10 weeks, despite the fact he was found to have bitten a chunk of Balmain-Ryde player Jason Schirnack’s ear off in a NSW Cup game in 2010. Stevens pleaded not guilty and claimed that he had punched rather than bit Schirnack’s ear, but also lost his case.


That’s it for Sunday Sin Bin for this year. Thanks for reading and, until next footy season, do svidaniya!

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Penns try to offload Manly

June 13th, 2018 / / categories: 江苏夜网 /

THE battle for control of Manly has taken a new twist after the Penn family entered into secret negotiations to sell their stake in the club.
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The Sun-Herald can reveal a consortium including co-owner Quantum, major sponsor Kaspersky, fellow sponsor United Resource Management and an undisclosed fourth party tabled a deal about six weeks ago. The initial offer, believed to be worth about $3.5 million, was rejected. There has not been a revised offer tabled at this stage.

”There were some discussions in the past and offers had been made, but nothing has transpired since then,” said Quantum boss Phil Sidney, who is also the spokesman for the board.

”We’re looking at our options. It may be that they’re looking to work amicably at board level. That’s what they have asked for. The board still works quite well. There may be some infighting, but decisions get made. It’s not as if there is an impasse on football matters. The only thing which really causes a problem is when people disagree and some feel they are not getting their own way.

”There’s virtually three parties now and when two vote together they have the majority. People have to accept that if you haven’t got the vote, you haven’t got the vote.”

The Sun-Herald revealed in July that Quantum was prepared to buy out the Penns after a no-confidence motion was carried against chairman Scott Penn. That drew a mixed response at the time – Penn told The Manly Daily he would dig in, while he told the Herald – on the same day – he was prepared to walk.

The latest developments suggest the latter is more likely. Ironically, the Penns had previously attempted to buy out Quantum’s shareholding.

One of many sticking points between the parties has been the failure of the Penn-aligned directors to sign off on a contract extension for Sea Eagles boss David Perry.

Former Manly co-owner Max Delmege, who had numerous run-ins with the Penns while at the helm, claimed: ”The sooner they are out the better. I certainly think it would be more harmonious going forward without them. They have been offensive towards just about everybody. They didn’t want Graham Lowe as CEO, they didn’t want Dave Perry, they didn’t want any other shareholders. They wanted it solely to themselves.

”They don’t strike me as rugby league people. They may be more suited to some other sport.”

Delmege said it was always his intention to give the club back to the supporters in some form when he privatised. ”Supporters want to go to the game and cheer their team to a victory. They don’t want all this backbiting and boardroom drama. Manly will be much more harmonious, no matter who took their shares.”

The constant infighting has had little effect on the team, which won the title last year before making it to within one game of the decider this year.

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Chinese telco seen as security threat

June 13th, 2018 / / categories: 江苏夜网 /

CHINESE communications and technology giant Huawei has been branded a threat to United States national security.
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The company was the subject of intense political debate in Australia earlier this year after it was barred from participating in the national broadband network on security grounds, a decision the opposition has said it would review.

In America, the chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, has warned that Huawei’s products could open the door to spying, urging businesses to ”find another vendor if you care about your intellectual property, if you care about your consumers’ privacy, and you care about national security”.

In March, it was revealed the Gillard government had banned Huawei from any involvement in Australia’s $36 billion national broadband network.

The decision, based on advice from intelligence agency ASIO, sparked claims from the opposition that the government was jeopardising vital Chinese investment.

In August, the shadow minister for communications and broadband, Malcolm Turnbull, said a Coalition government would review the ban, noting that Huawei was being used in the national broadband rollout in Britain.

A spokesman for Mr Turnbull yesterday told The Sunday Age that the latest development had not changed his position, and the decision to exclude Huawei from the NBN would still be reviewed if the Coalition was elected.

Mr Rogers’ intelligence committee tomorrow releases the results of a year-long investigation into the alleged security risk posed by Huawei and fellow Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE Corp.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon would not comment on Mr Rogers’ claims. A spokesman said: ”We note the committee’s work.”

Last month, former Victorian premier John Brumby, a board director of Huawei Australia, said he was hopeful the Chinese telco could participate in the NBN in the future, as this would convince other governments it was not a security risk. Mr Brumby did not return calls yesterday.

A spokesman for Huawei Australia said the company had not become the world’s number-one telecommunications equipment provider without partners trusting their technology and staff.

”Those are the facts today and those will still be the facts next week, political agendas aside,” he said.

The cyber-snooping claims were made by Mr Rogers during an interview with CBS News’ 60 Minutes program, set to air today.

Mr Rogers and the committee’s top Democrat, C. A. ”Dutch” Ruppersberger, have been investigating whether expansion by the companies enables Chinese government spying and economic espionage.

Executives for Huawei and ZTE, both based in Shenzhen, China, denied links to espionage during an intelligence committee hearing last month, telling legislators they are not controlled by the Chinese government.

With Bloomberg

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Warning on terror cell

June 13th, 2018 / / categories: 江苏夜网 /

A CELL of up to 30 violent jihadists may remain active in Australia, according to the man who indoctrinated them while establishing a local branch of the terror group Jemaah Islamiah.
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Radical Islamic preacher Abdul Rahman Ayub, who was the deputy leader of JI in Australia to his twin brother, Abdul Rahim, has told The Sunday Age they were sent by Indonesia’s godfather of terrorism, Abu Bakar Bashir, in 1997 to train young radicals in their form of Islam.

Both brothers stayed until 2002, fleeing just before and after the Bali bombings. In his first ever interview with an Australian journalist, Ayub said the brothers taught perhaps 100 people the ways of violent jihad – including one man later convicted for planning to bomb the Israeli embassy in Canberra.

”When I came back from Australia in 2002, to my knowledge there were about 30 people [who were still radicals in Australia],” he said. ”I don’t know about their recent development, whether they’re still active or not, but I believe they are still there. Neither I nor ASIO know the exact figures, nor how active they are.”

Asked about the potential presence of 30 jihadists, a spokesman said ”ASIO does not comment on specific investigations. ASIO does acknowledge that the terror threat remains real, persistent and prevalent.”

Once one of Australia’s most wanted men, Ayub also admitted that he wanted to make Australia a financial hub for an attempt to overthrow the Indonesian state.

Ayub was trained in Afghanistan between 1986 and 1992 to fight as a mujahid, or holy warrior.

He was an expert in unarmed combat, and became a confidant of Bali bombers Hambali (whose wedding he helped pay for) and Mukhlas (whom he sparred with in kung fu). He said at one time he respected Bashir ”more than I respected my parents”.

However, he denied he had any advance knowledge of the Bali attack and insisted he never wanted an attack on Australian soil.

”My mission was to preach Islam … Bashir told us not to commit any violence in Australia – we treated Australia as a country for taking political asylum,” he said.

”But we did teach jihad against Indonesia, against Suharto at the time. We taught about forming an Islamic state, but in Indonesia, not in Australia.” Australia was to be ”our financial base to financially support our struggle in Indonesia”, he said.

Ayub said ASIO had confiscated all the cassettes he and his brother had made of their sermons over the years and found nothing to charge them with.

However, the twins did recruit to JI British immigrant and Muslim convert Jack Roche – who was arrested and jailed in 2002 for conspiring to bomb the Israeli embassy in Canberra.

”We decided we needed an Australian who could speak Arabic, to talk to people about Islam,” Ayub said.

After they recruited him, Roche went to Indonesia, where he met terrorist mastermind Hambali (now in Guantanamo Bay).

”Hambali influenced him with this Osama [bin Laden] doctrine and helped him go to al-Qaeda camp,” Ayub said. ”It happened without our knowledge. When Roche returned [to Australia] he acted differently. He didn’t obey me, and we suspected something was wrong.”

Ayub said the 9/11 attack, Bali and Roche’s plot were errors that had changed how Islam was regarded in the West and had damaged his own faith in violent jihad.

”I was furious. I was very against those attacks because it hurts Muslims themselves. It hurts people in general all over the world. It hurts humanity, and it hurts our principles,” Ayub says now.

He said he believed now that Muslims should fight only as soldiers in a war zone and hoped Indonesia might become an Islamic state, but thinks it could not be rushed by human intervention: ”If Allah wants to give it to us, it will happen.”

Ayub works in and around Jakarta as a freelance theologian, preaching Islam. His brother, who left Australia three days after the Bali bombing, runs two schools.

Abdul Rahim declined to be interviewed but, according to Abdul Rahman, has now also given up his belief in violent jihad.

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AUSTRALIAN researchers have found a way to stop sperm swimming, opening another avenue for developing a male contraceptive pill and shedding light on possible causes of infertility in men.
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The scientists were able to cut off the fuel supply to the ”motor” that drives human sperm, so they are left twitching and not swimming.

Professor Moira O’Bryan, of Monash University’s School of Biomedical Sciences, led the research with scientists from the University of Newcastle, John Curtin School of Medical Research and Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and the University of Cambridge, in Britain. Their study has been published in the journal PLoS Genetics.

In laboratory tests using mice, the team engineered a mutation in a gene called RABL2, which delivers protein fuel to the engine in a sperm’s tail, known as the axoneme.

The mutation resulted in sperm tails that were 17 per cent shorter than normal, with a 50 per cent reduction in sperm production. The most striking result was that all mice with the mutated gene were rendered infertile, and their sperm unable to swim.

”They weren’t wriggling or going anywhere, they were just twitching,” says Professor O’Bryan. ”With this mutation, we get motors that don’t work properly. To be fertile, sperm need motility … or swimming ability.”

Professor O’Bryan says a future male pill might work to inhibit the RABL2 gene rather than change it permanently. ”The challenge with developing the male pill isn’t rendering the sperm infertile, but turning them back on again.”

But as RABL2 is also found – albeit in lower concentrations – in other tissues, such as the brain, kidney and liver, an inhibitor specific to the testes would be needed.

The fertility project was one part of an immense project involving experimental mutagenesis – the deliberate engineering of mutations on various genes – in laboratory mice.

Researchers looked at a variety of issues, including the immune system, hearing, facial abnormalities, diabetes and obesity.

Says Professor O’Bryan: ”It was like a big clinic where hundreds of mice were sorted into various projects. The ones that were fat were sent off in one direction, those with funny faces were sent elsewhere. A group in Sydney looked at lactation. Fertility was the last thing we tested.” Mice with the genetic mutation were put in cages and observed for breeding behaviour. ”They all behaved normally,” says Professor O’Bryan. ”But there were no pups born after six weeks. This was the result we were looking for. All of the males carrying this mutation were sterile.”

One in 20 men is infertile and, says Professor O’Bryan, the reasons for this are not understood.

”It’s a bit of a mystery area. And people don’t talk about it very often, they don’t seek treatment.”

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THE push to ban live exports intensified yesterday as thousands of people took part in simultaneous rallies around the country in a bid to stop the inhumane treatment of animals.
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In Melbourne, bad weather didn’t deter protesters who gathered at Parliament House calling on MPs to act.

The rally took place only weeks after evidence emerged of Australian sheep being brutally slaughtered in Pakistan. This followed revelations last year about the cruelty inflicted on Australian cattle exported to the slaughterhouses of Indonesia.

RSPCA Victorian president Hugh Wirth told the crowd that such cases were just the tip of the iceberg.

”These cases are just the latest evidence of what happens when animals leave Australia,” he said. ”Australians have seen the gross reality of this trade – inhumane slaughter, animals left floating around in the middle of the ocean, and what can only be described as totally barbaric treatment of Australian animals. Enough is enough.”

But the Victorian Farmers Federation backed the $1 billion live export trade, saying it was vital for the nation and many developing countries that lack the cold-chain distribution networks that are needed to store meat.

”As well as being important to the livelihoods of many Australian farming families, the live trade delivers meat to nations that would struggle to buy, store and distribute beef or mutton from Australia,” said VFF livestock president Ian Feldtmann.

Federal Labor MP Kelvin Thomson, Melbourne Greens MP Adam Bandt and Animals Australia’s Lyn White also addressed the Melbourne crowd.

Ms White urged protesters to send a message to MPs that the live exports are ”a stain on our soul” and should be stopped.

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‘Work is happening but the timing is out of our hands.’THE gaming industry in the ACT says a trial of mandatory precommitment limits on poker machines will not go ahead.
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And with the federal government refusing to commit to introducing precommitment legislation, the last vestiges of national gambling reform have all but disappeared.

The chief executive of Clubs ACT, Jeff House, told The Sunday Age the trial would not go ahead because there was too little time to set it up.

”We certainly won’t be getting it done between now and early February,” he said. ”There are so many questions we don’t know the answers to.”

The trial – of technology that would allow punters to preset how much money they were prepared to lose – was supposed to begin in February and run across the ACT.

Mr House said no poker machines in the ACT were ready for the technology. About one-third would need to be replaced, he said, and the rest would need to be modified.

A commitment to gambling reform was a key element in securing independent MP Andrew Wilkie’s support for the government after the 2010 election. The government reneged on the deal in January this year.

However, it promised an ACT-wide trial of mandatory precommitment with legislation requiring all new poker machines to be fitted with the technology from 2013 and all machines to have the technology by 2016.

Mr Wilkie supports the government’s bill because it sets a precedent for federal action on gambling.

The Greens refuse to support the bill because they want to see the inclusion of $1 maximum bet limits.

Clubs ACT does not want to proceed with the trial without the rest of the measures provided for by the government’s legislation.

Mr House said he would meet the Department of Families and Community Services next week to discuss the trial’s future but he was ”not optimistic”. He said he did not believe the federal government would try to introduce the legislation next year before an election.

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Community Services, Jenny Macklin, said there was still no time frame for introducing the legislation because of the lack of support from the Greens or the Coalition. She was also doubtful about the trial’s future.

”The work is still happening to make it a possibility but the timing is out of our hands,” the spokeswoman said.

The Greens’ gambling spokesman, Richard Di Natale, accused the clubs of trying to kill off the trial.

”If the trial doesn’t happen that’s as much their decision as anyone else,” Senator Di Natale said.

”What’s required here is for the government to take industry on.”

Senator Di Natale said he remained in talks with the government about the legislation.

”My concern is a future government would not do anything given the history of the recent reforms,” he said.

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June 13th, 2018 / / categories: 江苏夜网 /

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From Sweden comes this part road trip, part romp through the history of the 20th century. Allan is irreverent, sardonic. Upon his escape from an aged-care home, he robs a criminal gang. And so begins a chase. Not laugh-out-loud, as the blurb claims, but wryly diverting.

LIKE A HOUSE ON FIRECate Kennedy, Scribe, $27.95

Few Australian short-story writers have international reputations. Kennedy is an exception. Although she ventures into poetry, travel and the novel (all with success), the short form is her showcase. In her work, the tradition of Australian realism continues. The domestic is the main battlefield: illness, childbirth, violence. Slices of life like slices of cake, warmly and acutely observed.


Blogger and science writer Crew leads a tour of some spectacular oddities. It all makes science accessible to the general reader. She alternates between straight non-fiction and comic, anthropomorphic sallies – something that, depending on your taste, either endears or irritates.



A true original, by one of the 20th century’s most underappreciated voices. Peake matures well; as I age, I’m discovering new things about his work and what it shows me about myself.

Joanne Harris is a British author whose best-known work is Chocolat. Her latest books are Peaches for Monsieur le Cure – the third Chocolat book – and A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String (Doubleday, $32.95).

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The Casual Vacancy

June 6th, 2018 / / categories: 江苏夜网 /

THE CASUAL VACANCYJ.K. Rowling,Hachette, $39.99
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No book of adult fiction has ever been anticipated like this 500-page depiction of provincial English life by the author of the Harry Potter books. On September 27 at 5pm, The Casual Vacancy went on sale after an absolute embargo, as if we were all kids in wizard outfits, hungry for a magical fix.

Magic there is not. This is a remorselessly gritty and mundane book, a sustained exercise in what the author clearly conceives as the social-realist mode. It is structured around two funerals and a suicide and includes the piteous death of a child. It is centrally concerned with a council election and the consequences of malicious internet postings.

To an all but overwhelming degree, Joanne Rowling, who is wealthier than the Queen, focuses here on the horrors of life in the underclass, the turbulence and heartbreak of being a teenager, and the smugness and shallowness of lower-middle-class Brits who have grown fat and smug without getting much in the way of wisdom or virtue, and who wear prosperity like an ill-fitting suit.

The Casual Vacancy is a page turner in the most elementary way. It throbs with a consistent melodramatic urgency as Rowling scrutinises the unlovely surface of a small West Country town’s moral tics and intuits all sorts of pettinesses and meannesses under the surface. It is all executed with a monumental earnestness in a somewhat plodding, sometimes overwritten or inept style, which never gets in the way of Rowling’s remorseless dedication to the curve of her story.

The Casual Vacancy is never very subtle – it is forever dog-paddling in the depths of the horrors the author chooses to delineate – but it does have a sort of naive grandeur as the most successful writer alive tries to do honour to the rawness of life she must have glimpsed, pre-Harry Potter, of working people and those who will never work doing it hard.

The upshot is a book that is true to the side of Rowling that has always revered Jessica, the left-wing Mitford. It’s a bit like Cranford without the pleasures of small-town life; a bit like Coronation Street without the empathy; a bit like Shameless without the laughs.

But The Casual Vacancy is also a book that has the kind of ”heart” that flitters around the corners and borders of the Harry Potter books. What it singularly lacks is the charm that comes with academic gowns and wands. There is nothing here of the Hogwarts world’s effortless transposition of a public-school milieu writ magical and mysterious, or masters of arts black and white who could mix it in the mightiest common rooms of popular fiction – characters who are remote cousins of le Carre’s great game players, who owe their allegorical names (Dumbledore, Snape) to Mervyn Peake and Dickens, and who, as casters of the spells of popular fiction, might take tea with Miss Marple and Poirot.

Harry Potter was a brilliant fusion of two formulas: the school story and magic (which is also the key to its appeal to children of every age). The Casual Vacancy is formulaic in technique and style, though Rowling pushes like crazy – and in the face of every obstacle – to tell it like it is, to give us the harsh and horrifying image of the faces that become grotesque and piglike when they are seen in the mirror of the novel that reflects ”life”.

There’s no enchantment and not much charm, but all the sympathy, and most of the energy, is in the depiction of the kids, so The Casual Vacancy is a bit like a super-size young-adult novel, which the author wants to double as a comprehensive image of British life. It’s nothing like it, but it does have its compensating vigours.

A decent man, devoted to fixing things in a depressed area, dies, leaving a spot on the council. The town is dominated by a gross (in every sense) delicatessen owner and by his rather ferrety lawyer son, who wants the vacant council position. They, in turn, have rather nasty wives. The junior one lusts for the big smoke of London and rock concerts. Mrs Delicatessen gets a nasty shock about the reality of her long, sexless marriage. In the other corner, we have a hopeless junkie, her rough teenage daughter and neglected toddler son. Between these two extremes, there’s a school teacher afflicted by compulsive imaginary guilts, his social-worker wife and alienated, cold-hearted son. The son’s best mate is a somewhat softer boy who has a thug of a dad who rages and punches and is a crim to boot. The boy also has the hots for a dazzlingly beautiful girl who has come from London. Then there’s an Indian doctor and her daughter, who is gay and hurts herself but who comes good in the novel’s dramatic denouement.

The Casual Vacancy is centrally concerned with the way internet whisperings convulse a small community that is not up to much more than maintaining its complacencies (in the case of the middle-class respectables) or just – desperately – getting by (in the case of the feral down-and-outers). Between the two groups are the kids who strive and fall and weep (some of them) for the darkness of their own hearts.

The Casual Vacancy is, in one way, a very conventional book, playing on the prototypes of popular fiction. In another way, it is a cry against the horrors of conventional life. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a work of art and it is a very odd book to come from the pen of a great and fabled entertainer. But, despite stretches of cliche and failures of compassion (and dollops of sentimentality by way of a corollary), it does have a propulsion and an ability to hook the reader in the face of an attempted novelistic vision of life that’s pretty rough and tough.

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