It is no exaggeration to say that Joanne Kathleen Rowling’s world-renowned Harry Potter heptalogy is the most successful children’s series of all time. In the seven years of Harry’s life that Rowling crafted, she created a world so complete and yet, so open, that hundreds of millions of her books remain in print today, five years after the last main installment was published. Perhaps this is why many were quite surprised to hear that in September of this year, J.K. Rowling was going to publish a new novel, this time targeted toward adults.
The novel, entitled The Casual Vacancy, begins with the death of middle-aged Barry Fairbrother, a resident of a small town called Pagford. Barry is well-liked in the tight community of Pagford, but his death affects its residents with more than just the absence of his personality. Barry had been a member of the town council, and with his death comes about a casual vacancy, in which two candidates must present themselves to the town for an election. While the process seems simple enough, Pagford is a town very experienced in “keeping up appearances,” and by the time the election arrives, the societal wreckage is clear to all. Rowling’s new novel is not about the wonders of magic, it is about just how separate one’s inner thoughts and their demeanor displayed to the people around them can become, and how devastating living in our own society sometimes is.
The novel is not always easy to read. Rowling has greatly expanded her vocabulary from writing the Harry Potter books, not only in terms of English versatility, but also the insertion of obscenities and crude British slang into just about every three pages. It became clear very quickly that this was indeed a novel that young children were not meant to read. As such, when avid Harry Potter fans such as myself go to read this literary genius’ latest creation, they must be prepared to hear the creator of Dobby the house-elf describe two stoned teenagers having sex together. You have been warned.
Now, while the content may be rather shocking from time to time, I found very soon that I disagreed with the many negative reviews given by more prestigious critics than myself, some of whom described the novel with “dull,” or similar adjectives. I really must impress upon those thinking of reading this book that not even once in reading the story did I find it boring in the slightest. While Harry was more or less the only main protagonist in her previous work, Rowling manages to expertly weave at least ten different points of view together, a feat impressive for any author, and one that does not actually leave any dull moments. Also, Rowling has stated in multiple interviews that every character in the book is made up of the people she knows. As such, she is able to very accurately pinpoint the ways in which her many characters would realistically react, on the inside and outside, to the various incidents that all snowball from Barry Fairbrother’s death. These, she illustrates through witty and ironic humor that is actually rather thought-provoking at times.
Writing to the demographic of “upper school and beyond,” I would encourage others to read this book. While it may not be as expansive and enchanting as Harry Potter, it is by no means dull, and is truthfully very well-written, just in a different way. However, if you mind when sexual explicitness is the norm in your reading, or if you are someone who would much rather have his or her literary image of Rowling confined to the more juvenile Potter stories, then that is just fine. This is not the book for you. Just know, from someone who has read the story, that J.K. Rowling remains a stellar storyteller even when writing for adults, and that it’s generally unwise to trust someone much older than you when it comes to the quality of something like a book.