Yes, I know she’s a gazillionaire and that her success is beyond what most people can even imagine. However, when Little, Brown announced this past week that J.K. Rowling’s new adult-fiction book The Casual Vacancy had a release date (September 2012) and a synopsis, the Internet went a bit crazy. The synopsis?
When Barry Fairweather 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 faÃ§ade 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?Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowlingâ€™s first novel for adults. (via Little, Brown)
Personally, I loved the Harry Potter series. I didn’t expect to, but I did. Yes, the beginning books were a bit unstable, but the magic? The storytelling? I loved it all. Even at the end of the series, yes, I felt J.K. Rowling made some missteps (I’m looking at you, awkward Dumbledore scene in the train station when Harry is supposed to be dead). However, as a series, as a composite group of work, Harry Potter is masterful.
This novel? It will be different. J.K. Rowling certainly could have published this book under another name and avoided all the drama; however, she chose to place her name on The Casual Vacancy, a markedly-different book in almost every conceivable way.
In 2007, there were rumors that J.K. Rowling met with Ian Rankin in Edinburgh to discuss crime novels. The man himself tweeted me in February, saying she “does love a good whodunnit.” It isn’t being touted as such, but politics and small-town issues put this one in a perfect position for a murder or two. Speculation only, but isn’t that what revealing a blurb this early in the game is all about?
Many vowed to read anything written by the author of the famed boy Harry Potter. Others weren’t so excited:
On Bookalicious.org, Pam says it sounds “boring,” and the comments on her blog tend to agree. The Telegraph’s Sameer Rahim talks about why he’s “dreading” The Casual Vacancy, with the oh-so-original argument that J.K. Rowling sucks as a writer and that kids should be reading Charles Dickens (I’m thinking that deserves a post of its own).
So am I so ensconced in Jo’s camp (yeah, we’re close. I call her “Jo”) that I feel the need to defend her against all this scuffling nonsense? Hardly. I’m sure the woman who has built a multimedia empire can hold her own. However, in terms of J.K. Rowling as a writer, one who created something that has, for many, become legend, how do you move past it?
I, for one, am impressed that a mere year after the last HP film, she has jumped into the fray and is releasing a book. She had to have known she would meet this sort of response as there are some who will be unhappy with anything less than full-on magic. There are still others who have never understood her success to begin with.
Releasing a book so radically different is natural. Had she released anything else about Harry or any of the characters from the series, she would likely have faced much criticism for “milking” the success of the series. There would inevitably be articles written about the watered-down stories, much like spinoffs of successful TV shows. [Who can forget the Friends spinoff, Joey? Or maybe, who can remember it? Cheers boasts the successful Frasier, but it also had a 13-episode run of The Tortellis.]
J.K. Rowling will face a multitude of critics come September (and months before as ARCs are parceled out). The reactions? Disappointed Harry Potter fans angry that Queen Rowling didn’t produce the magic. Devout HP fans who will laud the queen, regardless of the quality of the book. Raging journalists, who have wanted to pounce for years but didn’t want to be attacked, will come out of the woodworks, decrying the death of literature.
Do I feel sorry for J.K. Rowling? Indeed I do. There is no way for her to win here, even if she produced a Dickensian novel, and I say “Dickensian” simply because these days Dickens seems to be the media’s favorite measurement for true literature. Once she gets this first novel out of the way, I think it will be easier for her to continue writing if she chooses to. So get it under your belt, Jo. I’ll pour the tea (with a bit of spirits) come September.