Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
The Casual Vacancy: why I’m dreading JK Rowling’s adult novel
JK Rowling new adults’ book, The Casual Vacancy, will sell by the bucketload, says Sameer Rahim. But that won’t make her a great writer.
Last year Miss Rowling was estimated by Forbes to be worth $1 billion, with the bulk of her money coming from her books and the Harry Potter film franchisePhoto: David Fisher / Rex Features
While her millions of fans are no doubt doing cartwheels in anticipation of JK Rowling’s new book for adults, the rest of us can be forgiven for holding back our enthusiasm. It’s not that The Casual Vacancy – according to her publisher a “blackly comic” novel about small-town ructions in the fictional Pagford – will necessarily be bad. In fact – though I haven’t of course seen a word of it: the publishers would probably shoot me if I had – I imagine it’ll be as similarly well done and as well meaning as Harry Potter. What I find depressing, though, is the amount of attention the Rowling juggernaut will get – attention disproportionate to the quality of her work.
I’m on dangerous territory here, I know, because an awful lot of people like Rowling’s work. Not just like, in fact: many are obsessed fans – as opposed to disinterested readers – and will rain down abuse on anyone who doesn’t toe the Potter party line. (I’ve found the children simply love the books while the adults get defensive.) So let me say that I’ve read the first three Potters and quite enjoyed them. Wholesome, decently paced and occasionally dark; you can easily while away a rainy hour or two in their company. What they lack is any feel for language, character and – crucially for a children’s book – the unexpected weirdness you find in, say, Alice in Wonderland.
Read the full story, and more than 100 comments (!) at The Telegraph.
I’ve always thought that Lewis Carroll and JK Rowling were each other's polar opposites in children’s writing. The Alice books are riddling, disturbing, unexpected and memorable with a relish for language that means you can still recite whole passages from memory years after reading them. Rowling’s magic is logical and plodding (much like her prose: can anyone honestly say they can quote one line?) and the pleasure her stories give is similar to putting together a jigsaw that eventually forms a clear picture. Even her concluding plotline in the Potter books about searching for Voldermort’s Horcruxes follows this pattern.