I finished reading The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling just a little bit ago. Now I really want to listen to the Rihanna song Umbrella. This may seem like a strange request, but it makes sense given the context of the book. Surprisingly, this song features prominently in the book. As it was from 2007, I imagine that J.K. Rowling must have heard it just as she was starting to write the book. When you see how it fits in, you see that it does fit. It is a song, particularly the opening rap, about fame and its discontents. Yet those who listen to the song in the book do not seem to fully grasp this. Instead, the drum of the beat is what they are after and what they come away with. This is, of course, very telling. (How many songs do we really understand?)
Of course, Rowling understands the downfalls of fame. Five years after her last book, Rowling has published this first post-Potter book and received bad reviews. Given the “bad” reviews, I was hesitant going into it. I love J.K. Rowling and the wonder that she created with the Harry Potter books. (I found those books to be intoxicating. I can remember sitting and waiting for the next book, whenever that would occur. When I was old enough, I would check the computer sometimes multiple times a day and would look to see if I could find an article that talked about when the next Harry Potter book would be available. I wanted to be one of the first to know so that I could inform everyone else. Of course, given my age, it is no surprise that I identified with these books. The struggle of being an adolescent in an adult world is a large theme in the books. In my opinion, the concept is handled quite well). However, just because I loved J.K. Rowling’s previous works did not mean that I was going to love this work. I knew that it had to be different. On many levels, I wanted it to be different. Getting Harry Potter without the magic would have been both a disappointment and a bit of a slug at the greatness that came with Harry Potter. Yet, after reading some of the reviews, I almost felt like this was what people were expecting.
Here’s the thing: the book is not light. Topics/situations that it deals with include child neglect, drug abuse, underage sex and cigarette and pot smoking, marital affairs, loss of sex drive, slight mental breakdowns, and death. Also, there’s an advanced level of swearing. (In some of the later Harry Potter books, some of the characters used the occasional “hell” or “damn”, but characters here have gone to the “hardcore” swear words). Now, reading this, some might think that J.K. Rowling has pulled a Miley Cryus and is trying to desperately do everything she can to prove that she has outgrown the children’s image she is known for. I must admit that, before I read the book, I had the same worries. Upon reading the book, though, I remain convinced that this was not Rowling’s intention, nor did it feel like it was. Never once did I get the impression that Rowling was trying to shock her reader. The material feels disturbing at times, but effectively so. Also, for those who might be angry for what is written in this book, please remember two things: first, this is an adult book. Never once has Rowling encouraged teen or child fans to read this book. Besides dealing with some heavy topics, it seems most likely that adults will be the most engaged in the book’s humor (yes, there is some of that and it is wonderfully dark) and the characters. Secondly, Harry Potter was hardly a laugh-a-minute book series. The opening book starts with a character who is locked in a closet for eleven years by his evil aunt and uncle after his mother and father are brutally murdered by a killer who is still on the loose. Yes, there is magic and friendship to serve as distraction, but death (arguably one of the darkest topics) played a prominent role in those books.
But perhaps it is best not to go into too much detail with this book. One reason why the book was so astonishing to me was because, after hearing the bad reviews, I was expecting it to be quite terrible. If you as a reader are ready to read about the topics mentioned above, then dive ride into the book. If not, then this book is not for you. That is fine, as I don’t think it was ever Rowling’s intention to write a book that would please everyone. As she has said in interviews, her sole motivation for writing this book was because she could not stop herself from writing it. As a writer, that is probably the best answer. Though it may be disappointing to get low reviews, Rowling has said that she is not going to be destroyed if her book is not received well. But this is not a bad review. For this reader, after five years of constant internet checking to find anything I could after her first post-Potter book, the wait was worth it. Absolutely.
Reader, have you read the new J.K. Rowling? If you have, share your experiences/opinions down below. If you not read the book, do you want to?