I want to break free!
Okay, so it’s not easy to feel sorry for multi-millionaire JK Rowling, whose much-anticipated new novel The Casual Vacancy is out this week. But as the first reviews begin to appear, I found myself becoming irritated on her behalf. In the New York Times,legendary critic Michiko Kakutani seemed amazed by the fact that Rowling, a woman who grew up in rural England and at one stage lived on state benefits, has written a book set in rural England featuring characters living on state benefits rather than a book about wizards. ” There is no magic in this book — in terms of wizarding or in terms of narrative sorcery,” she sniped. In the Daily Beast, Malcolm Jones wrote “To get some idea of its flavor, imagine a world without magic, beneficent protectors, or teenagers interested in anything more than themselves.” The real world, then. Other reviews took a similar approach: JK Rowling’s new book isn’t a fantasy! And it isn’t for children! How dare she!
Sarah Ditum has already written a brilliant post about how unfair and silly much of the coverage is, and I agree with every word. It seems that a lot of people feel that JK Rowling owes the world something – she made a fortune writing about wizards in books aimed at children, and if she dares try writing anything different, she’s somehow betraying them.
There’s also an assumption that Rowling is also betraying her earlier readers by writing not just a book aimed at adults, but one that deals with very adult themes, from violence to drug addiction. But as Rowling said, ‘There is no part of me that feels like I represented myself as your children’s babysitter or their teacher. I’m a writer and I will write what I want to write.’
I’m reviewing the book myself, for the Sunday Business Post, and my copy arrived about half an hour ago. I haven’t started it yet, and I don’t know whether it’ll be any good or not, but whether it is or not has nothing to do with the fact that Rowling made her name writing for younger readers. I think she can write about whatever she wants to write, whether that’s a magic boarding school or the grubby realities of life in a small English village. Luckily for her, her vast fortune means that she can afford to ignore the critics and write about what’s important to her without worrying about whether it’ll sell or not. But every writer still wants readers to appreciate and enjoy their books, no matter how rich they are.
So what about you? If you’re a Harry Potter fan, will you be picking up Rowling’s latest?
And if you never had any interest in the adventures of the boy wizard, will The Casual Vacancy tempt you to give JK a try at last?