So About J.K. Rowling’s First Non-Potter Book

JK Rowling Casual Vacancy

After seeing The Hunger Games for a second time, a friend and I got into a bit of debate over the “legitimacy” of young adult lit authors. I’d read FilmDrunk’s Hunger Games review a few weeks back that stated, among other gripes, that Suzanne Collins — a successful TV writer — only got into young adult lit because of the gold mine cracked open by J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer. FilmDrunk’s Vince Mancini went on to say that many of his friends have followed suit, working hard to break into YA lit for financial reasons and not because they always dreamed of writing the hot new teenage horror/socialite series.

My conclusion (aka. the point at which I agreed with my friend) is that it’s hardly fair to act as though being smart about your business choices, and turning those business choices into a financially profitable project, is something to frown on when it wouldn’t be considered seedy or underhanded in just about any other industry in the world. Yet somehow the successful writer is usually portrayed as some greedy schemer who doesn’t really “love” writing, while the starving artist who can’t sell a book to save his life but might be famous in 50 years is a noble, respectable creature. Tamara Drewe illustrated that nicely — the husband is a bastard, the American is a sweet and honorable man. The rock star is a bastard, the farmhand is a sweet and honorable man.

What made J.K. Rowling stand out was that she managed to be admired both as the starving artist and the wealthy, savvy businesswoman.  Thanks to a rags-to-riches, single Mother storyline, she became fantastically rich writing kids’ books while still maintaining an air of integrity (for most people). And now, to solidify that, instead of embarking on a continuation of the Potter series, or starting a new YA Lit franchise entirely, she’s making the somewhat more risky move into adult literature.

The Casual Vacancy (I don’t hate the title, at least) is described by Rowling as being “blackly comic,” and set in “an idyllic English town where all is not what it seems.”

A little more detail from the publisher:

“Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupil … Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?”

I’m pleased that this seems to be something of a black comedy/mystery/murder novel, which quite frankly would be just as much of a smart business venture for a popular author as YA Lit, and I genuinely believe that Rowling is a good enough writer to pull this off. But if it’s not — if it’s some Little Children-esque exploration of marriage and divorce in a small town (ENOUGH of those, by the way) — I will be sorely disappointed. As it stands, this sounds… fun. It also kind of sounds like the plot of Hot Fuzz.

Will J.K. Rowling ever be able to top Harry Potter? Well, no. But if this book is good enough — or even fun enough — she may be able to put it solidly behind her, at least.

10 thoughts on “So About J.K. Rowling’s First Non-Potter Book

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  4. I was far too old for HP when it first came out, so never read any of the books. Loved all but the second to last movie though. Rowling herself rubs me the wrong way but not for the reason you mention. I’ve been peeved at her ever since she went rampant with suing anyone writing books about child wizards. Like she owned the bloody idea. Ugh. Half of her whole world/story is plagarism anyways so why get so pissy at others for the same thing? However, I may just give this new book of hers a go.

  5. Very true. If she was only after topping Potter, she’d likely be disappointed. The kind of success she found with the Harry Potter books is something that can only happen by accident, really. Another person could have written almost the exact same type of story and never gotten “discovered” or had the opportunity to be published.

    • Agreed. And it wasn’t an instant success, either as I don’t think it became enormously popular until the fourth one came out. I remember her talking about when they published the first one, she’d go for book readings in stores and no one had showed up, so a couple of polite people would often sit in chairs and listen.

  6. As someone who has enjoyed writing young adult literature since I was 11 years old after reading the Dark Materials Series, I can definitely see both sides of this. I constantly get reproached about my writing style merely based on the fact that it’s young adult literature (because of all the current hype). It is true that there are many who are jumping on the young adult bandwagon due to Rowling’s success, but that doesn’t mean we may not get great fiction from this … and maybe also lots of less than great fiction ☺ However, I don’t believe that Rowling did just move on from Harry Potter. After all, she prolonged the life of the series with the movies, Potter More (though it was somewhat of a bust), as well as various museum exhibits and extended writings (Fantastic Beasts and the like). But I do hope her new novel will be a great read. I agree, I don’t think it has to do with topping Harry Potter, as the Potterverse fandom is staggering. I think she needs to move past it as a writer, and not get hung up on comparisons.

    • I think that ultimately you can tell when it’s earnest, though. I didn’t love The Hunger Games when I read them, and I was a little baffled at their popularity, but I thought it was a fun read. I’m not sure that I felt that it was “calculated,” but it definitely didn’t seem all that original.

      When you look at Pullman’s work, he is clearly addressing a young adult audience whereas Collins’s book felt like it was addressing a film producer.

      Agreed about Rowling, but I also think we can’t expect her to move past Potter completely. She’s working on the much-promised encyclopedia, and there will probably be another handful of projects related to the series in the future. At this point it’s like she’s the curator of a museum, rather than the artist.

  7. While I see what you are saying, if an author truly has no interest in young adult fiction and writes it just to cash in and ride the wave of popularity the genre is enjoying right now, I liken it to a metal/industrial/band selling out and playing music pop music just to sell records. It’s posing, selling out, “sucking up to the man”, as Maynard James Keenan puts it. ;p (You know, like Korn did with that Twisted Transistor crap. LOL) So I guess it really depends on if the author is doing it solely for the money, of the money is the deciding factor but they are also viewing it as a chance to do something new. Just my humble opinion as an author myself.

    • But it is impossible to know. And in some cases, we even reward artists who are completely honest about it — Andy Warhol was always clear about the fact that he wanted to be as famous and make as much money as possible, and he’s still an icon.

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