What J.K. Rowling has just done is solidified the fact that she is a wonderful storyteller.
It has been five years since she published the last of the Harry Potter series, so it’s no surprise how excited readers were for her first voyage away from Hogwarts.
On Thursday morning, her first book for adults, The Casual Vacancy hit bookstore shelves.
Forget the iPhone5 or the newest video game, there were people waiting eagerly to pick up an item as ancient as a series of pages containing words. Rowling is one of the contemporary authors who have revived the world of books.
Little, Brown printed two million copies to start (that’s not the 11 million copies of the final Harry Potter that sold in the first 24 hours in 2007, but it’s still quite a departure from the 1,000-copy original print run for the first Harry Potter in 1997.)
Okay, I know. Enough rambling. You just want to know what her newest book is like.
Take away the wizardry, take away the rudimentary writing style and dialogue for kids, add some complexity, add some adult content… and you have The Casual Vacancy.
Rowling’s skill is her descriptive writing and brilliant storytelling.
An author should be able to “put you there.” What do you smell? What do you see that describes the mood, the characters, the story? Rowling does that with ease.
But she also describes the setting and characters in a way that doesn’t affect the flow of the story, which is not that common. Rather than spending paragraphs introducing new surroundings or personalities, she releases details in bits and pieces as the story unfolds.
The Casual Vacancy is about the townspeople of Pagford, some of whom don't very much like their neighbouring city, Yarvil.
When Barry Fairbrother dies (don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away, he dies on page 5), his Pagford council seat is left empty. Before Barry’s body goes cold, an entertaining war erupts between the townspeople who want to take his place.
There are two sets of storylines that unfold – one involves the adults fighting over the council seat, the other involves their teenage kids going through teenage problems. And the teenage theme is so strong in this book, that you can tell she still has youth fiction in her blood.
A common theme between Harry Potter and The Casual Vacancy is the use of rivalries to create tension, drama, and pure entertainment.
In Harry Potter, you have the “pure-bloods” and the “Muggles.” You also have Gryffindor and Slytherin.
In The Casual Vacancy, you have the townspeople who see themselves as true Pagfordians, and those who live in “the Fields.” The housing development was built by neighbouring Yarvilians just 60 years ago, and has since been placed under the jurisdiction of Pagford. But some Pagfordians don’t want to welcome the junkies and poor families who live in the Fields.
That becomes a main issue in the election to replace Barry Fairbrother.
There is, of course, more adult content – teen sex, marital problems, domestic violence and drug abuse. The book is funny, sarcastic, and at times heartwarming and depressing.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that she can pull off an adult book considering how dark the Harry Potter books became as the characters grew older.
I’ve heard criticism that The Casual Vacancy is not a Harry Potter, that it lacks magic and wizardry. But really, did anyone expect something as good as Harry Potter? Face it, there will never be another Harry Potter! It takes guts to try to live up to everyone’s expectations outside the world of Hogwarts.
I was excited to crack this book open. And now I’m just as excited for more adult fiction from Rowling.
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