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'The Casual Vacancy': Adult content shows we're not at Hogwarts anymore

J.K. Rowling's new book for adults is highly anticipated, and adult content in the books shows it's no Potter do-over, though similar themes echo in 'Vacancy.'

By Husna Haq / September 24, 2012

J.K. Rowling's new book 'The Casual Vacancy,' to be released Sept. 27, reflects on the two topics that she says are her obsessions: morality and mortality.


If, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once proclaimed, “There are no second acts in American lives,” J.K. Rowling is proving there are in British ones.

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And third and fourth, it seems. The once-single mother who survived on welfare, then struck platinum-status with her seven-book series on the magical world of Harry Potter has reinvented herself again, this time as a novelist for an entirely new audience – adults. 

Rowling’s post-Harry era begins Sept. 27 with the release of “The Casual Vacancy.” The new novel is a 512-page tale of class warfare, morality, and small town politics set in an idyllic fictional English village.

The question on everyone’s mind: Whether Rowling can successfully crossover from her stratospherically triumphant reign as a children’s author and creator of the 450-million-selling Potter books, which made her net worth almost $900 million and set the bar for forthcoming books frighteningly high, to well-received adult novelist.

This much is clear: “The Casual Vacancy” is no “Harry Potter” and Rowling, thankfully, makes no apologies for this decidedly different track. Set in the fictional English village of Pagford, the book begins as a “rural comedy of manners” that builds into a portrayal of class warfare, strewn throughout with treatises on social welfare. Following the death of Pagford council member Barry Fairbrother, the well-heeled town is pitched into a divisive battle about its connection to Fields, a neighboring town characterized by its public housing and poverty. Historically, Pagford extended a hand to Fields – children from Fields could attend primary school in Pagford (“a place of flower baskets and other middle-class comforts) and the town also ran a drug-treatment clinic that served many in Fields. But with the death of council member Fairbrother, Pagford’s “anti-Fields faction sees an opportunity to rid Pagford of this burden.”

After reading the 512-page novel and interviewing the famously reserved Rowling, writer Ian Parker shared his thoughts in a 10,000-word feature in the New Yorker

“Within a few pages, it was clear that the novel had not been written for children,” Parker writes. “The Casual Vacancy,” after all, is a tale of “class warfare set amid semi-rural poverty, heroin addiction, and teenage perplexity and sexuality.”

“…But reviewers looking for echoes of the Harry Potter series will find them. “The Causal Vacancy” describes young people coming of age in a place divided by warring factions, and the deceased council member, Barry Fairbrother – who dies in the first chapter but remains the story’s moral center – had the same virtues, in his world, that Harry had in his – tolerance, constancy, a willingness to act.”

Even Rowling found similar themes. “I think there is a through-line,” the author told Parker of the New Yorker. “Mortality, morality, the two things that I obsess about.”

But, by most accounts, the similarities end there. For those accustomed to Rowling’s more traditional, buttoned-up children’s fare, “The Casual Vacancy” is most certainly not that.

There’s this: “The leathery skin of her upper cleavage radiated little cracks that no longer vanished when decompressed.” And this, about a lustful little boy who sits on a school bus “with an ache in his heart and in his balls.”


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