The (Very Hectic) Vacancy

Dear Reader,

If you have not heard by now, J.K. Rowling has just released a new book. If you have not heard of J.K. Rowling by now, here are over 213,00,000 articles that may get you caught up. I don’t imagine that there is a single fiction writer who has endured more pressure in the last five years than J.K. Rowling has. Literally from the first day that her final Harry Potter book was released (July 21st, 2007), reporters and fans alike have been asking her the big question: what next? For five years, she stayed progressively quiet about it. When asked in July 2007, she said that she was working on something for children and another thing not for children. When asked again in 2011, she said that she was “writing a lot“. She put up a Twitter account only to post several messages that all said that she could not use her Twitter account because she was too busy with “pen and paper“.

Naturally, the public started speculating. After all, how do you top the world’s best-selling book series of all time? (Not to say that Rowling had any intention of ever topping herself, but the public likes it when they can stir up those types of feelings). Within a year, rumors from “reputable sources” speculated that she was working on a crime detective novel. This novel idea exploded on the internet for a while, but soon died done after about 1,350,000 mentions of it. I remember reading on some message boards that fans were very disappointed in the author for not having published post-2007 (because clearly writing seven books—four of which came out at 600 pages or more—in ten years, in addition to managing and eventually co-producing the film adaptations of these books, plus getting re-married, having two more children, and raising a family must have required minimal effort on her part).

When, at last in 2012, J.K. Rowling revealed the title as “The Casual Vacancy” and, soon after that, a release date, people became suspicious. The title did not sound anything like the crime novel, nor did the slight-sophistication of the word choice sound like a children’s novel.  At some point, the publishers did release a synopsis of the book, which mentioned a town under chaos. Up to its release, Rowling did not expand on any of it. She didn’t have to. Her name alone, especially coming fresh from the post-Potter period she now lives in, will sell more than enough books to make a profit.

Will readers like it? That is difficult to tell. In some ways, it is not as important. What I am more interested in is the public’s interest in the book. Like anyone who has read and enjoyed a work by an author, reading a new work is exciting due to the unknown factor. However, most of these authors are probably not going to be changing their territory in an extreme way. Rowling is. Having been considered a children’s author since the beginning, this is the book that could potentially “prove herself” as an adult writer, which some think would make her an actual writer. Frankly, having seen the amount of adults who have read her, I would hardly count as a children’s author, though there would be no shame in it if she was. What I can’t understand is why people feel that there should be shame. Or, rather, why people think that creating books for children takes less focus, sincerity, and ambition as someone who writes for adults. Children, after all, are some of the toughest critics. How many times have you heard of an adult who is slogging through a bad book, but determined to finish it anyway “just so that they can say that they have read it”? Now, how many times have you heard a child say the same thing? If a book is not compelling, children are not going to waste their time on it (which is really what writing and reading should be most concerned with).

Personal opinions aside, Rowling has at least proven herself commercially. Through the Harry Potter books, she has already written about topics like love (both the wasted and true kind), death, growing up, war, slavery, power, sexuality, mass chaos, murder, jealousy, and loyalty, all of which qualify for “adult themes”. So what is next for her? Does she need to write in more sophisticated language? (More so than her Harvard speech?) Does she need to write explicit content? Should she add more curse words? If the answers to these questions are yes, then what exactly defines an adult writer from a writer who writes adult themes with adolescent main characters? And does this difference even matter?

No doubt, within the next few weeks, some fans will love this book, some will despise it, and some will not want to “ruin” the Harry Potter books by reading this one. I have faith that, while she may not be able to recreate the success of her previous books, this book will be on the best-sellers list and will be part of the conversation in the book world. As she said herself, “the worst that can happen is that everyone says, ‘That’s shockingly bad’….I’ll live.” And, really, if people think that she has not been pulling out the punches for the last fifteen years, they haven’t been in the ring with her.

Reader, will you read the new Rowling book? Why or why not?

Sincerely,

JW

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2 Responses to The (Very Hectic) Vacancy

  1. I will read Rowling’s new book. I am an adult and was when the first Harry Potter book came out. The delightful things she succeeded in doing was to catch the interest of both young and old and bring a common interest. Her writing is so good, that regardless of the ‘story’ I can’t imagine anyone saying it’s badly written. Even boring doesn’t seem possible.
    Thanks for the reminder of a good story coming out.

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