The Flaw in the Plan
The Casual Vacancy in Comparison To Harry Potter
What are the critics saying about The Casual Vacancy
? Will it be as popular as we all expect? And is it truly as radically different from Harry Potter
as Rowling says?
The Casual Vacancy
is already the centre of a massive whirlwind of hype. I'm sure the book will be stunning on its own, but even if it isn't, it will still be a bestseller - and Jim Howell of the British bookstore chain Waterstone agrees with me here. The name Rowling is enough to attract billions of readers. For one thing, many of Rowling's original fans are adults by now. They will clamor to read her story. Rowling's readers will not just be limited to adults, just as Harry's audience wasn't limited to young adults. I'm only a teenager, yet I and hundreds of other children will read The Casual Vacancy
along with our parents. It's an adult novel? So what? This is Rowling we're talking about.
But Rowling has her fair share of critics, too, and just as her admirers are already saving up to buy The Casual Vacancy
, they are already condemning her latest book. The retail price is too high, they protest, Rowling's taking advantage of her fans' devotion. I'm thirteen years old and my parents spoil me, so I won't have any problems with grabbing that book the moment it hits the stores. But I've heard several people complaining that they won't buy the book due to the price.
Personally, though, I think this is only natural. This isn't Rowling's fault - it's her publishers; and again, it's only human nature to long for a little more money. I predicted from the first that they would publicize this book to the max. Their thought process: No matter how expensive it is, people will buy it, so why not make it as costly as possible? Even Amazon isn't discounting pre-orders as much as it usually does. The publishers are releasing the book in e-book and audio formats as well, so that anyone and everyone will buy it and read it. I'm not precisely blaming them over here - The Casual Vacancy
will be a golden nugget of literature and they'd have to be fools not to want to benefit from this - I'm just saying that Rowling isn't responsible.
Others claim that Rowling is being hasty in making the leap from a children's writer to an adult writer. She won't be reduced to begging on the streets if this book doesn't sell well, but her reputation as a writing god could suffer. After all, we'll all be judging this book very harshly…let's be honest here, any book would look terrible in comparison to Harry Potter
. Skimming through a review on Goodreads about The Casual Vacancy
, I found I agreed with one point the writer made: (paraphrasing) if this book isn't a masterpiece, then millions of fans will be devastated. The truth is, the bar for Rowling is very, very high.
On the other hand, Rowling seems to thrive under pressure. I'm not one of those starry-eyed fools who think this book will be even better than Harry Potter
, because it won't. That's simply not possible; the Potter series were Rowling's maximum best, but even if this book is only good, Rowling's good is excellent. I trust that The Casual Vacancy
will be amazing. She might be a little daunted by the expectations of her fans - Chamber of Secrets
was very difficult for her to write for this very reason - but in the end she will write the book because she loves it. She'll write it for the same reason she wrote Harry. She'll write it because she loves it, and so she'll prosper.
Also, it's been approximately five years since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
. We know that Rowling has been working hard, according to her own sporadic reports. Harry Potter was planned over a long period of time and it is a brand-new, meticulously-constructed world as a result of this. If the idea for Casual Vacancy
has been festering in Rowling's outlandish mind for five years, it follows that it will be well-planned, and a good book is always well-planned.
Someone commented on Goodreads that the plot doesn't seem very original. Well, truthfully, it did bring to my mind an echo of John Grisham. I haven't read his works too extensively, but it seemed his plot style. But despite this, I laughed out loud on reading that remark. Rowling? Unoriginal?
Sometimes, while giving an ancient, ignorant relative a very basic idea of Harry Potter, I'll say, "It's about this boy who doesn't know he's a wizard and then he finds out, and then he goes to this magic school and he has to fight a bad guy who killed his parents." Then I'll halt and wonder.
Is that Harry Potter I just described? It sounds so cliched - an orphan boy (Charles Dickens, anyone?), a villain, a magical school…it seems so outrageously simple. But that's Rowling's true magic. She's taken this relatively simple storyline and has layered it with plots, plots, subplots, and some more plots, not to mention hilarious dialogue and careful characterization. Most people on Goodreads have said that the book doesn't sound gripping at all - I don't agree, personally, but that's my point of view. I'm not into politics, exactly, but I do enjoy a "struggle for power" theme - but they follow this statement by vowing to read it anyway. The reason? Rowling has trained us perfectly. We know exactly what to expect from her - originality.
And I'd just like to say this: This book is not a crazy leap into the unknown. Just by reading the synopsis, I've concluded that this book shares some similarities with Harry Potter. Yes, yes, they are completely different genres for completely different categories and this editorial could simply be the result of my overworked fangirl mind, but oh well.
First things first: The main character's name is Barry. It rhymes with Harry.
Oh my Merlin. Harry Potter and Barry Fairweather? JKR seems inordinately fond of simple names for her starring boys. Mark my words, it's no coincidence that she's named the next child of her imagination Barry. I think that it's a signal to her HP fans: She hasn't forgotten Harry.
Of course, we all know that she's very fond of having names with meanings, so naturally I Googled Barry. What did I learn? Along with Harry, it's a very popular name. Harry means 'home ruler' and Barry means 'spear' or 'fair-haired'.
Instantly I made two assumptions: Harry Potter and Barry Fairweather are alike and also radically different.
This might be an almost groundless guess, but I'm going to say that Barry's fair-haired, based on his name, although Harry's dark-haired. I imagine that Rowling wants us to envision a very different character, not just another version of the Boy Who Lived (or Radcliffe!)
There's also a certain similarity in the alternate meaning of Barry and the meaning of Harry. 'Home ruler' could indicate fame, which is certainly suitable, but it also hints at a leader, maybe of an army. Someone who, in fact, initiates a war. Which is befitting, considering that Harry effectively began Wizarding World War 2. Barry also, in his own way, begins a war, which is perhaps why his name means 'Spear'.
And then there is the element of politics, which is dominant in the Harry Potter
books, particularly OOTP
. The Casual Vacancy
appears to fall into the category of 'political thriller'. I'm receiving 'The Animal Farm' vibes, actually, from it. It will portray, I believe, the same themes present in the Animal Farm
- man's lust for control; how power corrupts us; the struggle for supremacy. These elements are also important in OOTP
. Personally, I think this is exactly the sort of thing Rowling should write. Her success at fantasy is due to her imaginative mind and ability to recognize our inner dreams - Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, oh God - and these skills will serve her well in the genre she has chosen for the next book. She'll come up with creative plots and realistic motives. In OOTP
, for example, Fudge demonstrates man's love for political dominance excellently. The Daily Prophet, which gladly reports lies to maintain favor with Fudge, also indicates the ugly side of politics. Similarly the Order is almost like a political party, of which Dumbledore is leader.
And after all, didn't she consider writing a political fairytale earlier?
Another common argument is that Rowling's simple prose will not translate well into adult-standard. Well, on the contrary, most adults read on a 9th-grade level, and the most popular books are on a 7th-grade level. So I don't imagine that should bring much of a difficulty. And anyway, although Rowling doesn't litter her work with polysyllables, she does insert good vocabulary words in her novels, so adults should be satisfied.
I believe that The Casual Vacancy
will be a bestseller, and not just because of Harry Potter
, although that will certainly give it a boost. Rowling will ensure we get our money's worth, and even if this isn't another Harry Potter book, I trust that Potter fans will enjoy it.
I hope I've managed to sway some of her critics. If I haven't, though, we'll find out who was right on the 27th of September!