Sorry, Queen Rowling.

The Casual Vacancy Launch

As I’m assuming much of the novel-reading world knows, J.K. Rowling recently released her first book outside of the Harry Potter empire. The Casual Vacancy, specifically aimed at an adult audience, is about the small town politics of Pagford, England and is, to the great dismay but not surprise of all her fans, totally void of wizardry. From a woman of humble beginnings but fabulous, deserved success, we are bequeathed with what is essentially a very straight-forward book about the life and times of the English working class, the nastiest of corners included…

Although I consider myself an avid and loyal fan of the Harry Potter books and do, on the odd occasion, hope to find my mailbox stuffed with Hogwarts letters, I did not await the release of Rowling’s new work with the kind of fervour I did the final Harry Potter instalment. I braced myself for what I knew would invariably be something vastly different to the story of magic that has captured and held us all for the last fifteen years. I did not get my hopes up.

I was however, incidentally browsing through a Dymocks Bookstore in Melbourne (on a wee little holiday!) on the day of The Casual Vacancy‘s release and, having just finished reading the novel I had taken with me, I decided to deposit a little more gold into J.K.’s Gringotts vault. I bought the whopping great boulder of a book and lugged it around in my handbag for the return trip home (involving taxi, plane and bus…plenty of reading time.)

Although I had been incessantly reminding myself that this was not Harry Potter, I did expect to be entertained and interested by she who has become known as the greatest living author. I began its first page with a melange of trepidation and excitement but found myself, a three hour flight and five chapters later, quite under-whelmed. To put it bluntly, I knew at the sixty page mark that I would not at all be impressed by The Casual Vacancy. 

My very honest thoughts:

The entire spectrum of swear words and adult themes (sexuality, domestic violence, drug use and adolescent disobedience) had been either directly included or at least alluded to before I had even read my way through the first quarter. Now, I’m nineteen and am therefore no stranger to profane language and rule-bending behaviour, but I cannot say I was impressed by The Casual Vacancy‘s flood of irreverence. When it comes to the use of profanities in literary works, I personally find that less is one hundred times more – not because I’m at all bothered by it but because after you read the word ‘fuck’ twenty times, you become immune to its impact. If used only once or twice, it knocks the reader back for a moment with its poignancy and isn’t that the point of using it at all?

From my perspective, Rowling’s overuse of mature language was a blatant attempt to get her foot in the door of adult literature, to shatter her image as ‘the author of Harry Potter’ in favour of a more general ‘best-selling author’ title and to prove that she really can write outside of the children’s fiction genre. However, by using certain literary techniques for the sake of her author’s reputation rather than for the sake of serving the novel’s actual content, I found she missed the mark.

Another aspect of The Casual Vacancy that I found less than impressive was its structure: numerous characters, multiple perspectives, countless sub-plots and too grand an array of themes – all of which happened to be exhaustingly dark. The plot felt scattered and unfocused and, although many books successfully include an abundance of different characters, in this instance, I felt torn between too many perspectives and was therefore unable to ever really get into the book.

To J.K. Rowling’s credit, she did not compromise the filthy truth of lower class English life for the sake of entertainment. Exposing the dirty underbelly of small town life and politics, Rowling painted quite a shocking picture and I applaud her for her bravery and honesty. However, that’s where my praise ends.

Although I wasn’t expecting another Harry Potter, I was thoroughly disappointed by J.K. Rowling’s newest literary venture. The Casual Vacancy, for me, left much to be desired in all literary arenas, inclusive of plot, character, style and scenery. Sorry, Queen Rowling, but I simply cannot recommend your latest read.

Who was your first love?

Book Love

They say your first love is intense…and this is true. I fell hard, at age eleven, and have since been irrevocably rapt by the magical world of witchcraft and wizardry. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, my first literary love, was certainly a real book and was followed by six others, each as exquisite as their predecessors. But they have not been my only loves…my heart has been passed around the library quite a bit, its strings plucked by the likes of Life of Pi, Tomorrow When the War Began and The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

According to J.K. Rowling, whose word no one can dispute given her literary crown, “If you don’t like to read you haven’t found the right book.”

Have you fallen in love yet? Multiple times? To whom?

“Every child in our world will know his name!” You were right, Professor McGonagall.

On the fifteenth page of my very battered and tattered copy of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, the much beloved (and also somewhat feared) Minerva McGonagall doesn’t mince words when she predicts Harry Potter’s future fame: “He’ll be famous – a legend…every child in our world will know his name!” Well, Professor, maybe you should teach Divination.

Harry Potter is indeed a household name and unless you’ve been living in the middle of the Sahara Dessert, you’ve heard of him. I began reading J.K.’s first book when I was ten years old and have since been a self-proclaimed student of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Yes, I’m a nerd. But I’m not the only one.

Joanne Rowling

I have no qualms in making the bold claim that Joanne Rowling has set the benchmark for imaginative storytelling. As a writer (or at least a wannabe writer), my greatest and seemingly unattainable dream is to pen a story that captures the imaginations of as many children and adults around the globe. To this day, no other author, film-maker, painter or playwright has come within a one hundred kilometre radius of J.K. Rowling’s feats of imagination. They have tried (oh, how they have tried!) and they have oft succeeded in producing wonderfully creative tales, but none has ever come close to pinching the crown from Harry Potter’s lightning-scarred forehead. That is, in my own personal opinion.

Today, while driving to work in weather so miserable it seemed the height of cruelty that I was unable to curl up with a mug of coffee and a book, I heard an announcement on the news that excited me so much that I very nearly drove straight into a pole. Saving my wing mirror in the nick of time, I spent the remainder of my journey very carefully grinning from ear to ear. Are you ready to hear the news? (Exercise caution if currently operating heavy machinery.) The beloved queen of fiction, J.K. Rowling, is returning to her kingdom with a fresh and exciting new novel for adults!

Although the title and plot of this up-and-comer are as unknown to us as magic is to muggles, she has disclosed that her latest book will differ greatly from her Harry Potter stories. Exploring different territory, writing for a different audience and using a different publisher, Ms. Rowling certainly has us all waiting with bated breath, intrigued and excited. The question that I’m sure is now on everyone’s minds is whether or not anything will ever compare to the phenomenal success of Hogwarts. Although I certainly will be in line to buy her book on its release date, I must confess to feeling the slightest bit unsure as to whether or not I have room in my heart for anything post-Harry Potter… I guess I’ll just have to wait, read and see.

Welcome back, Joanne, we’ve missed you!