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