Thursday, September 27, 2012

Strict Pick: THE CASUAL VACANCY, by J.K. Rowling

I said that last week and this week's Strict Picks would be "If you happen to be living under a rock" kinds of recommendations. Although, as I was tweeting about this, I discovered that one of my writing friends apparently does live under a rock and, despite the biggest media push aside from the book I'm calling 50 Bit Grayscale, did not know that Rowling had a new book coming out.


Rowling has a new book coming out today. And I'm thrilled.

Here's the summary from the publisher: 

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the 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 fa├žade 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 parish 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?
The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.

This is not HARRY POTTER. 

And yet I'm so excited to read it I may have camped in the receiving department until someone opened a box so I could read the first chapter. 

Which begs the question: what makes me so confident in an author to follow her into a completely different genre of books? Harry Potter was middle grade fantasy, this is adult literary. No matter how much I love Harry Potter, there is no doubt that TCV is going to be a complete 180. So why get so excited? 

1. Rowling already writes across genres. 

In Harry Potter, some of the books were more "ripping good yarns" to use Rowling's own description of Book 2, some were serious who-dun-its, some were deep explorations of good vs. evil on multiple levels. Sometimes they were heavily literary, sometimes they were comical. Within the septology of HP, Rowling proved herself a writer who could traverse a very wide terrain, and do it all well. Fred and George Weasely are every bit as funny as the  scene at Harry's parents tomb is poignant. It builds a level of trust—I know that whatever she's set out to achieve in VACANCY, she'll do it with aplomb. 

2. POTTER was toned down.

There's very valid critique that book 4, 5, 6, and 7 of HP were unwieldy and needed cutting. I think they could've used a good edit, myself. At the same time, I felt there were some very sophisticated critiques going on in those books—of authority, of education, of government, of impressions and love. They were things which couldn't be fully realized in a middle-grade book (although having just finished SON by Lois Lowry, I think there are ways to make these critiques in middle grade, it just wasn't easily done in POTTER). I could almost feel those sorts of issues trying to come to the fore, and yet, because they just didn't quite fit in the books as they were, made the books feel long and fractured instead of coherent, sharp critiques. I'm looking forward to being able to see Rowling's treatment of those sorts of ideas when she can count on an audience with the life experience to appreciate them. 

3. Rowling's craft is super. 

Now, there are authors whose words make me want to weep because I'm just never going to be that good at turning a phrase. Rowling isn't one of those. But Rowling's writing is solid. I don't find, when I'm re-reading a POTTER book, that I'm counting adverbs, or distracted by an odd expression, or aware of which tense I'm reading in. Her worlds are whole and completely described, and it's easy to get lost in the pages. I don't doubt that Rowling will put me as surely in the midst of Pagford's square as she did Diagon Alley. I know that I can count on this being a solid read. 

Given those three things, to say nothing of the fact that literary mainstream is sort of my genre anyway, I am pretty much going bananas that today I get to take a copy of The Casual Vacancy home. I trust it will be an immersive, thoughtful read, and I'm ready to go with Jo Rowling wherever she wants to take us next.

Are you planning to read The Casual Vacancy? Have it pre-ordered? Waiting to hear how its received?  Or is this book just another "eh, books come out every Tuesday" for you? 


  1. I so want to read this book. I'm waiting to see if I can sample it first though. I'm with you on wanting to go wherever J.K. Rowling takes us. I love her writing.

    1. I confess fully that I'm not buying it today, but that's partly because it's SUPER expensive and so I'm going to order it from But one of my job perks is being able to borrow hardcovers, so I'm coming home with a copy today. Yeee!

  2. Great post--it's making me think about the authors I'd follow across genres. I think you make a great point that while the Potter series overall was kidlit fantasy, multiple genres appeared throughout the series.
    And she is a solid writer and a phenomenal storyteller, usually leads to a good read.
    I plan to read this eventually, but probably after I've finished on the books on my physical TBR shelf. I'm excited to see what you think of it!

    1. So far, so good...I'm on about page 50.

      Btu yes. It's a really interesting question, because I can't think of very many authors I'd follow across genres. Audiences, yes--I understand, for instance, I read Lauren Oliver's middle grade book, and will read her adult book, but they're both paranomal/magical realism. But Rowling is definitely one I'll read whatever. It helps that literary fiction is my usual read. :)

  3. I appreciate your thoughts about this! I haven't been sure whether I want to read this or not.

    The cover really turns me off and I haven't been too sure if Rowling has proved herself in something other than middle grade. You make a very good point that she has shown us other things within the HP books.

    I was not a huge fan of Harry Potter. I felt like I was being dragged through the plot by the author and I dislike that feeling.

    I think I'll look for this one at the library in a few months and give it a chance!


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