JK Rowling released her first adult novel The Casual Vacancy yesterday (26th September 2012). It is bound to be a phenomenal best seller purely on the back of the success of Harry Potter, but what will be the general consensus of opinion once the sales dust has settled?
James Runcie interviewed her on the eve of release for the BBC’s The Culture Show. (Link Here) The interview tackled a lot of the issues that were discussed in the novel and spoke generally about how the book would be received. It’s a fascinating half an hour on Britain’s most successful author and yet I can’t help but feel as though she’ll be put to the lions.
Too Much Success
The human race, especially Brits, love to put a successful person down. The underdog is forever supported and the champion is mocked for any sign of fragility. Well, you can’t be more successful than JK Rowling. When I was looking at the Top 50 charts yesterday, she dominates them. Books or Films. She’s wealthier than the Queen and has her own theme park to boot. Characters and places from her imagination are now weaved into the fabric of contemporary culture.
To achieve all of this, she’s written seven books. That’s all. It’s an amazing, inspirational, fantastic, phenomenal story in itself and that’s why critics will kill her new book when it’s released. She doesn’t have to write anything ever again but she’s a writer, so what would be the sense of that? If you had all of the money and opportunity and freedom that you could possess, then you sure as hell would want to spend your days doing something you loved.
The New Book
In the interview, she speaks about her motives for writing a book that couldn’t be more different to Harry Potter. She explains that this wasn’t a deliberate strategy to distance herself from the towers of Hogwarts, just a story that she wanted to tell. She’s a writer and for the last decade she has been constrained to just one world that she created. It should not be so surprising that when a bird’s cage is opened, it flies away.
The book tracks a small community in an English village centring around a Parish Council election. However, it involves sex, drugs, racism, self-harming, bigotry, ignorance, exclusion and probably a whole load more. Imagine Ron on smack, Dumbledore’s his dealer and Harry has joined the National Front.
Success or Failure
Regardless of how the book is received by the critics, I’m sure it will be a great story, and after all that’s what you want from a book. Could she ever live up to the success of Harry Potter? No. Could anyone? No. But one skill that JK Rowling has in spades is how to tell a story. She’s proved that writing a successful book is nothing to do with beautiful prose and imagery but simply a good story that hooks the reader.
As in any rags to riches story there will always be ugly sisters who jealously look on. In the interview she was honest enough to accept that she would be disappointed if the book wasn’t liked, but also honest enough to say it wouldn’t be the end of her world either. She’s doing what any artist does; putting her soul out in to the world to be judged. She can’t change that, money can’t change that, past successes can’t change that.
JK Rowling deserves to be taken seriously. If the book fails does that mean she’s a bad writer? So what if she is? Her storytelling has changed the world and I, as well as probably millions of others, will always read a story that she’s written.