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Sat Sep 22, 2012, 12:42 PM

JK Rowling: 'The worst that can happen is that everyone says, That's shockingly bad'

JK Rowling's new novel arrives with the high drama and state secrecy of a royal birth. Its due date is announced in February, and in April the disclosure of its title, The Casual Vacancy, makes international news. The release of the cover image in July commands headlines again, and Fleet Street commissions a "design guru" to deconstruct its inscrutable aesthetic, in search of clues as to what might lie within. Waterstones predicts the novel will be "the bestselling fiction title this year". Literary critics begin to publish preliminary reviews, revealing what they think they will think about a book they have not yet even read.

The Casual Vacancy
by J. K. Rowling

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I am required to sign more legal documents than would typically be involved in buying a house before I am allowed to read The Casual Vacancy, under tight security in the London offices of Little, Brown. Even the publishers have been forbidden to read it, and they relinquish the manuscript gingerly, reverently, as though handling a priceless Ming vase. Afterwards, I am instructed never to disclose the address of Rowling's Edinburgh office where the interview will take place. The mere fact of the interview is deemed so newsworthy that Le Monde dispatches a reporter to investigate how it was secured. Its prospect begins to assume the mystique of an audience with Her Majesty except, of course, that Rowling is famously much, much richer than the Queen.

In the 15 years since she published her first Harry Potter, Rowling has become both universally known and almost unrecognisable. The scruffy redhead who used to write in the cafes of Leith has slowly transformed into a glossy couture blonde, unknowable behind an impregnable sheen of wealth and control. Once a penniless single mother, she became the first person on earth to make $1bn by writing books, but her rare public appearances suggested a faint ice maiden quality, less Cinderella than Snow Queen. Sometimes she didn't appear to be enjoying the fairytale at all, complaining to Leveson of having had to hire privacy lawyers on more than 50 occasions, and suing a fan for writing an encyclopedia of Potter facts. The press began to hint at a coldly grandiose recluse.

Famous people who appear incredibly controlling are generally one of two things: monstrous megalomaniacs, or unusually sane souls insulating themselves from insane circumstances. There is seldom much middle ground, and I find out where Rowling belongs when her publicist calls an hour before we're due to meet. I fear the worst. Is there going to be some ludicrous last-minute cloak-and-dagger demand?


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Reply JK Rowling: 'The worst that can happen is that everyone says, That's shockingly bad' (Original post)
XemaSab Sep 2012 OP
Matilda Nov 2012 #1

Response to XemaSab (Original post)

Thu Nov 8, 2012, 04:57 AM

1. It isn't shockingly bad,

but it's not terribly good, either.

I was given my copy as a birthday present, and I'm rather glad I didn't shell out any money for it. I won't give away plot spoilers, but although the characters are well-drawn, they're uniformly unappealing, and it's very hard to care about most of them.

Half-way through the book, I realised I had a complete character description of the residents of an entire town, but very little had happened. And although said residents of said small village were all connected, each chapter dealt with a different family, so there was never the feeling of almost incestuous closeness amongst the families that occurs in small communities.

I wasn't tempted to put it aside, but kept reading in the hope that somewhere I would see a glimpse of the old Rowling touch, with a bit of excitement and perhaps a sudden devious plot twist. Nup - it just meandered on its way, and in the end my feeling was, "who cares?"

I couldn't help feeling that she was trying rather self-consciously not to write like the author of Harry Potter, but somehow the creative juices didn't break free of the restraints she was putting on herself. Or maybe she can only write about wizards after all.

On its own merits, it doesn't deserve the attention it's had, and I do wonder whether, if this book had been written by anyone other than Jo Rowling, it would have got published at all. At the very least, I think it would have sunk without a trace.

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