It’s a long way from Hogwarts – J.K.Rowling’s gritty new novel

J.K.Rowling’s new novel was released yesterday. But before you rush to the shops with the kids in tow, be warned; if you’re expecting a bedtime story or a little light reading, her latest novel may surprise you.

Described as her “first novel for adults”, The Casual Vacancy is a complete departure from the world of wizards and the J.K.Rowling that readers have come to know. It’s a novel set determinedly in the real world, telling the story how an unexpected death and local election exposes secrets, lies and treachery in what is a seemingly idyllic English town.

There’s little magic, friendship or magnificence in the new world she has created. Rowling’s not afraid to dirty her pen, whether it be words, thoughts or deeds she’s describing. She takes on drug addiction, poverty, abuse, assault and neglect through a host of characters less interested in redemption and nobility and more interested in getting their own fix.

Allison Pearson, reviewing for The Daily Telegraph, describes it as “the Archers on amyl nitrate” and recommends hiding the book from any children. There’s certainly enough swearing in the book to justify withholding it from the kids:  Sherryl Connelly of the New York Daily News quips, disappointedly, that “J.K. Rowling has gone from Potter to potty-mouth”.

Many more reviewers have commented that it seems that Rowling was so eager to throw off the title of a children’s writer that she as gone too far in the opposite direction, penning a novel that will only be appreciated by adults interested in a dark dissection of human folly.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Rowling  – who has spoken freely about her own struggles with depression, povery and suicidal thoughts – has more than a little darkness to get out of her system after several years of writing for an audience that demanded optimism. If you think The Casual Vacancy might not be a book for you, there’s no need to give up on Rowling as she said in a recent interview with the BBC that, while she is proud of her latest novel, the next book she works on will be for children.

“I think it very likely that the next thing I publish will be for kids. I have a children’s book that I really like, it’s for slightly younger children than the Potter books. I loved writing for kids, I loved talking to children about what I’d written, I don’t want to leave that behind. But I wanted to write this as well.”

For the moment, if you’re looking for a little magic and escapism, The Casual Vacancy may not be the book for you. But if you are willing to keep the faith with Rowling’s writing skills and her knack for getting into her character’s heads (unlikeable as they may be), it could well be worthwhile putting Potter aside and letting her spin her new story.

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.