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.