"..a bardy view!"

Harry Potter and the Casual Vacancy

Casual vacancyI can't comment on the merits of JK Rowling's new book "The
Casual Vacancy"
because I haven't read it although the critical reviews
are mixed and not entirely favourable.

By all accounts it's a rather depressing hotchpotch
portrayal of modern Britain laced with plenty of grammatically challenged yoof culture with a liberal splash of sexual
references, foul language, drug abuse, self-harm and car-crash behaviour.

My concern is that the book couldn't be reviewed prior to
publication, and all knowledge of it was battened down, under lock and key just
like the Harry Potter series. I can understand why those were kept in secret – any leak could have been a spoiler for the army of fans.

What bothers me is
that before the Casual Vacancy hit the shops, 2.5million (that's right 2.5m) were
pre-ordered. In other words it was bought on the back of the authors name,
without one person being remotely knowledgeable of its content.

There were, of course, indications that this was not going
to be another Harry Potter derivative. It was not for kids but adults. A
grown-up book, and an attempt by the author to break-away and show that she was
not just a one-trick pony. However it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Rowling is the richest living author, yet if she had the confidence
in her writing skills, surely she could have sent the manuscript to publishers
under a pseudonym? Many great authors have done that. That would have been the

Even if she had
considered it, it's likely that her publishers would have discouraged her.The
name is a brand, and brands make money. I find it distasteful and a gross
exercise in commercial exploitation.

I'll bet my hat that a large percentage of that 2.5m were
either young people who grew up with Potter, or a new generation who have recently
discovered the sagas, either in book form or through the movies.

It could well be that
parents pressurised to buy it for their offspring could be regretting their
decision now. It's likely there will be a casual
on their children’s bookshelves very soon.

Is it a good book? Well the proof is in the pudding. I
suspect, and I wish her no ill, that it will have a short shelf life, and be
regarded as an aberration. A name alone does not guarantee success. The book is
already a best-seller due to the pre-orders. But that doesn't make it a great
book. It just proves that people are gullible, not only by those who made their
claim in advance, but also by those that queued outside the bookstores to buy
it and got caught in the hysterical euphoria.

It's a decidedly modern type of behaviour. Fuelled not necessarily
by the desire for a good read, but the instant fix to broadcast their purchase
on Facebook and twitter, with accompanying photos from their smart-phones.

Authors should really stick to what they know best, or at
least what they know their audience wants, and on that basis, it is a betrayal.
Rowling must have known that her name alone would sell the book, but, and here's
the caveat and paradox, she was renowned for a particular genre, and assumed
that she could deviate from it, comfortable in the knowledge that she has already
made her name.

In other words she relies on her army of fans to buy her new
work, yet at the same time says that it is not a really a book for them. Perhaps it was a work of self-indulgence? She is aiming it at an adult audience,
but that audience of new readers are expected to purchase it, based only on the
name – a name which many in their 30s or 40's now would not have even bought her
first Harry Potter book twelve years ago, because they would have been at least
20 years old at the time.

Even if they were parents then, their children would have been too young to read it
in the first place. In other words, she is relying on the nine and ten year
olds who were able to read her books from 2000 (when the books began to get the
global fame) and continued to do so, and who are now in their early 20's.

These are the people who will buy her new book, and everyone
else is really too young for it or even past caring. Surely that is not the adult
audience that Rowling seeks?

Speaking from experience, it was 1998 when a friend and
author James Brabazon, (who wrote the first complete and widely respected
biography of Albert Schweitzer), first told me about it over a pint in

He asked if I had ever read Harry Potter and the Philosophers
? I said I didn't have a clue about it, never heard about it, but he said
there was a remarkable simplicity and compelling flow in the narrative, and
perhaps my children would be interested in it? So he gave me his copy.

At the time my children were aged 16, 12, and 10. A prime
audience. My eldest gave it a go, but soon lost interest – she was approaching
womanhood after all; my second daughter stuck with the next few books over the
following years and finally lost interest; and my son, the youngest, gave it a
shot, but considered it ridiculous and abandoned it.

Today, they are adults, aged 31, 26, and 23. None of them
regard Harry Potter as a factor in their lives, yet they remember well the
hysteria surrounding the books. None of them have any intention or desire to
read Rowling’s new book, and two of them have children of their own – far too
young to read Harry Potter, and by the time they are able, unless the Potter
series has the classic and timeless appeal of Tolkien or C.S.Lewis, then they
are never likely to.

Neither of those authors branched out into reality, and
perhaps that's the reason for their continuing appeal.

In conclusion, a writer, regardless of their success, can be
easily swayed by their popularity. Roald Dahl, famous for his children’s books
is not well remembered for his adult contributions. It's because that we have an
affinity and a memory from childhood, and we cannot allow our childhood dreams
to be broken.

This is why J.K. Rowling has made a mistake. If she wanted
to write an adult book, she should have learned the mistakes from her eminent predecessors.
She should have published incognito. The work would rise or fall on merit, and
no damage would have been done, save a loss of pride if unsuccessful.

Sadly, she may well have destroyed the dreams of millions,
purely out of vanity and commercial influence. Has she become spellbound?

Let’s hope that she returns to the genre that her fans love her
for. A prompt return to the adventures of muggles and wizards may not be what
she wants, but it’s a world that her fans want, and for their sake, she should endeavour to keep the
magic alive. 



September 27, 2012 - Posted by | Arts, Books, Current Affairs, Education, Film | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Excellent as always yet can’t comment with any authority as haven’t read it either. I’ve never read a Harry Potter one either, although I have seen some of the moving pictures. If they were an example of the books then I’m glad I didn’t. Absolute load of ‘hogwash’. Then again I’m not into far fetched junk but all credit to her for doing so well. I do believe she had a rather torrid time being published in the first place? So why not make up for it now?


    Comment by spookmoor | September 27, 2012 | Reply

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