'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.'
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Some have asked Rowling whether she felt some responsibility for her band of youthful fans who grew up reading Harry Potter and would now, surely pick up “The Casual Vacancy.” “There is no part of me that feels that I represented myself as your children’s babysitter or their teacher,” Rowling told the New Yorker. “I was always, I think, completely honest. I’m a writer, and I will write what I want to write.”Skip to next paragraph
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Following the unprecedented success of her Potter series, it would have been easy for Rowling to continue writing Potter adventures, or at least, more children’s books. With this new adult novel, she drummed up the courage to branch out and take a risk.
Writes the New Yorker’s Parker, “I asked her if publishing the new book made her feel exposed. ‘I thought I’d feel frightened at this point,’ she said. ‘Not just because it’s been five years, and anything I wrote after Potter—anything—was going to receive a certain degree of attention that is not entirely welcome, if I’m honest. It’s not the place I’m happiest or most comfortable, shall we say. So, for the first few years of writing ‘The Casual Vacancy,’ I kept saying to myself, ‘You’re very lucky. You can pay your bills, you don’t have to publish it.’ And that was a very freeing thought, even though I knew bloody well, in my heart of hearts, that I was going to publish it. I knew that a writer generally writes to be read, unless you’re Salinger.’”
“Authors, and especially successful authors, are expected to keep producing more of the same,” writes the UK’s Telegraph. (The curse, if you will, of the Harry Potter phenomenon.) “To change genres can upset their fans.”
In an autobiography A.A. Milne of Winnie-the-Pooh fame complained “that the artist who has early success with a painting of a policeman is expected to paint policemen forever,” as the New Yorker writes. “If you stop painting policemen in order to paint windmills, criticism remains so overpoweringly policeman-conscious that even a windmill is seen as something with arms out, obviously directing the traffic.” Although Milne is best known for his children’s books centered on that lovable bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, he attempted at various points in his career to explore all genres, including sketches, plays, mysteries, novels, short stories, even war pamphlets – with mixed success. “As a discerning critic pointed out,” Milne wrote, “the hero of my latest play, God help it, was ‘just Christopher Robin grown up.’ So that even when I stop writing about children, I still insist on writing about who were children once.”
Though we have yet to get our hands on a copy of “The Casual Vacancy,” we wager to say Rowling has already accomplished something remarkable in having the courage to walk away from the “easy success” of another Potter novel or even another children’s book and leap into a new genre. With “The Casual Vacancy,” she is attempting to escape the curse that accompanies any smash success.
As we page through this new, and no doubt very different piece of the Rowling canon, we’ll do our best not to superimpose upon every second character a certain beloved boy wizard we once knew. Because whatever Fitzgerald said, everyone deserves a second act – and a fresh read.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.