Slow clap for J.K. Rowling

Clap. Clap. Clap.

So her new book A Casual Vacancy launched. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…. Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.

Sounds pretty straightforward. And then you start reading the reviews.

“When you read the book, you need to forget this is the same author who gave us Mr.Potter’s world of magic. This is set in a tiny English town and deals with politics,class struggle,poverty,drug use,child abuse,rape,self-mutilation, suicide, pedophilia,mental illness and other ugly realities. Much to her credit the author does this with sharp comic wit, however it does all go on a bit too long with the ending being somewhat predictable and heavy-handed. It goes from being a lively comedy of manners to over-wrought slog by the end.”

And the best description I’ve read so far:

“This book is about what would have happened to Harry Potter had there been no Hogwarts. It’s an “alt” version – what happens to a neglected child in the welfare state, what happens when there is no magic, what happens in a world composed of Durselys. That makes it an adult book and a very unpleasant read. I could not bring myself to care what happened to any of the Durselys.

I see that almost everyone gained self knowledge (and most did not put it to any use); I see that hacked Facebook pages as a means of knowledge is very clever (JKR lives); I see that a girl who was being destroyed is more confident because she is imitating someone (Kristen) whom she does not really see as she is – but I didn’t care. I was glad I’d reached the end alive myself, that was all.

However I did read the entire book so Rowling is still a page turner. I will also buy her next book but I hope someday she can integrate what is at present a double vision – magic childhood and adult rottenness.”

They’re a little more charitable over on Goodreads, where the book has 3.9 stars. Goodreads seems to be where all the fans hang out, and they’re trying very hard to say nice things. Even the people who you can tell hated the book still try to phrase it as “it’s just not my kind of book”.

Rowling has the kind of fanbase most of us new, young authors only dream of. Rabid, extremely loyal fans who will buy any drivel she happens to pen. Instead of writing something her fanbase will devour, she goes the complete opposite direction. Is she trying to show that she’s a “grown-up”? That she can write “dark and edgy” (because Harry Potter didn’t have enough dark, edgy stuff in it)?

If she keeps on writing in this vein, she’ll alienate her fanbase. And that’s like cutting your own throat. It’s why Sega doesn’t go after the Sonic the Hedgehog fandom with their art and fanfics. The loyal fans buy games. Just like the loyal Harry Potter fans will buy Casual Vacancy.

A lot of them already have, and are trying to come up with something nice to say about it.

Now, I know that pandering to the fanbase is a bad thing to do. That’s how you wind up with the endings of Neo Genesis Evangelion and Mockingjay. As an author, fans can depress you.

But fans also buy your work. Hopefully Rowling’s next book will be something in a similar genre as Harry Potter. As Diana Wynne Jones pointed out years ago, there’s no shame in writing juvenile fiction.

Diana Wynne Jones: Why do I write for children? There is one good reason. I would hope to encourage some part of one generation at least to use their minds as minds are supposed to be used. A book for children, like the myths and folktales that tend to slide into it, is really a blueprint for dealing with life. For that reason, it might have a happy ending, because nobody ever solved a problem while believing it was hopeless. It might put the aims and the solution unrealistically high – in the same way that folktales tend to be about kings and queens – but this is because it is better to aim for the moon and get halfway there than just to aim for the roof and get halfway upstairs.

The blueprint should, I think, be an experience in all the meanings of that word, and the better to make it so, I would want it to draw on the deeper resonances we all ought to have in the other side of our minds. For me, those resonances will have something to do with the Other Garden, but I am willing to hope – or even to believe – that if I get the book right, I might actually provide these resonances for those who did not happen to have such a Garden.

I have anyway always hoped to write a truly memorable book, the one that you go back to the beginning of and start rereading as soon as you get to the end, the one that you think of in subsequent years as the one that really pointed you in the way you wish to go. I still don’t think I have done it. That’s life. Halfway to the moon. But on what I have done, I would not really like to set an age-limit. I am always delighted when aunts and grandfathers write to me, saying their nephew/granddaughter has just introduced them to, say, Howl and they couldn’t put him down. Source

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7 thoughts on “Slow clap for J.K. Rowling

  1. I enjoyed this like I always do anything you write, I am glad you went and did your own research and you found out lots more and you know more about a fan base than I do. I liked what you wrote from Diana Wynne Jones. Just an aside. As you know about my life in the early years. It was the people who I went to when my own real life was beyond normal. I entered into the works of fiction so that through those books I could find normal. I could find peace and all that was good. Sure those kinds of stories had hard things to live through but somehow they always managed to remain good. I think the sad thing is we all always have a choice. It makes me sad to see that J.K. Rowling can only see the bad so clearly and chooses to operate in that world. It makes me so sad because I do see her as such a talented woman. I keep hearing this phrase in my head about writing, never write anything that your children will be ashamed of someday. I guess if writing comes from the heart, it scares me for J.K. Rowling. Good review.

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  2. What seems to be happening here is Rowling attempting to shed her image as the woman who wrote those wizard books; she wants to be a Serious author now.

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  3. Have you read any part of the book itself? I “opened” it on B&N.com and read the Prologue and first several pages. I found the voice rather horrible, the subject matter dull and pointless, and the characters flat (well, the one character’s chest was apparently anything but flat…).

    I picked up Harry Potter and re-read the first pages, just to see if I somehow (even after reading the series three times) mis-remembered her writing.

    Nope. I think, at least from the first pages of TCV, the problem may be that Rowling is really *meant* to write MG/YA fiction and that style of writing doesn’t mix with such adult subject matter. It came across boring because she was holding back on all the amazing and imaginative stuff that we know is bumping around in her head.

    If she’s doing this to be “taken seriously” I will never understand it. She wrote one of the greatest literary series of all time, so how more seriously would she need to be taken?

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    1. All I can figure out is that she’s been hobnobbing with the elites lately, and this was written to impress them. Because Dark, Depressing and Edgy are all Impressive to the Elite.

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  4. Just had to pop in here, as I read a comment of yours over on your Deviantart, and had an off-topic point to note (some implied spoilers for the third Hunger Games novel, so fair warning):

    “As usual, I got the title wrong, it was Catching Fire. The third Hunger Games book. Buzz from the fans was, the first two books were just fine, then Collins got on the fan websites and read the debates, the shipping wars, the speculation, etc. In retaliation, she kills everybody in book 3.”

    I just finished reading Mockingjay not several weeks ago, and ‘she kills everybody’ is the biggest joke I’ve ever heard. Out of all the major characters in the story who were present in prior books (about – say – 10+ people), two die. Two. _Twoo~ooo._ Oh, several others die along the way – who were introduced in that book – but one can only care about two or three of them. Why? Investment. The author stoops so low in creativity to at one point introducing two characters with the same exact name with only numbers to tell the difference between them. IE Person 1 and Person 2. Of course they don’t last long, and of _course_ I don’t care when they die!

    I could go _off_ on that book for critical reasons other than the popular ones(‘it’s too dark,’ ‘too many people die,’ etc.), but I’ll reserve that for somewhere else. Oh, but as a note, you were right the first time: Catching Fire is the second book, Mockingjay is the third. =)

    As for Rowling, I agree pretty much with all that you say, though I was honestly surprised to hear she had written something new. It sounds like she invested so much in a dreary, dark setting that she entirely forgot the necessity of having some reversal to all of it. No counter-point of light to the dark, comedy to the horror, etc.

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    1. Ah well, that’s what I get for repeating stuff about a book I haven’t read. Have no interest in reading, really. Nothing about dystopian reality TV interests me at all. :-p

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  5. Love-Loved this bit of the final quote (Me and my affinity to all-things folktale):

    “A book for children, like the myths and folktales that tend to slide into it, is really a blueprint for dealing with life. For that reason, it might have a happy ending, because nobody ever solved a problem while believing it was hopeless.”

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