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We aren’t at Hogwarts anymore…

Welcome to the November DeacsRead discussion of The Casual Vacancy! As any Potterhead already knows, J.K. Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter novel is a departure from both YA and fantasy. In her move to adult literature, Rowling introduces us to the inhabitants of Pagford, a small town in the West Country of England, that has been rocked by the sudden death of a member of the town’s council. If you have already begun reading, you know that as the town reacts to his death and scrambles to fill an open council seat, we most definitely aren’t at Hogwarts anymore.

Before we launch into the discussion of The Casual Vacancy, I am curious to know your thoughts about Rowling’s move into adult literature. Are you surprised, disappointed, heartened? Do you think these are necessary shifts in audience and genre, given the unprecedented success of Harry Potter, or simply an attempt to prove her career as a literary author, no longer secured by the liberties granted storytellers writing of a made-up world? Do you harbor hopes that one day she may return to the world of wizards, or do you wish the Harry Potter series to stand as is? I look forward to reading your thoughts, and to sharing my own!

Category: Discussion, The Casual Vacancy

11 Responses to We aren’t at Hogwarts anymore…

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  2. Molly Keener says:

    Several different reasons for reading this book – I love it!

    As a *huge* Harry Potter fan (we won’t discuss how often I re-read the series…), I was wary of “The Casual Vacancy.” I found Rowling, in the HP series, to be a masterful storyteller, but I was never wowed by her writing. I feared that what I judge to be average writing might mar her attempt to write of the real world when the captivating elements of fantasy were removed.

    Happily, though, expectations were exceeded, and I believe her skills as a storyteller carried over in her first adult novel. The writing still wasn’t brilliant in my opinion (I never re-read any sentence or passage for sheer literary beauty), but as Hu and Suzanne commented, the small-town story was captivating.

    • Fred says:

      Molly,
      I agree that Vacancy may lack sheer literary beauty. However, I am not certain that I have the refinement and culture to recognize writing as such. However, I have reread quite a few phrases because I enjoyed their dry, wry descriptive wit. Samantha is often the source of these; for example, her shop being called “over the shoulder boulder holders.” The description of Howard as “globular” or making “porcine noises” make me laugh because of the crisp, clinical terms used for insulting purposes. I am reminded of John Gielgud in the original Arthur when he states, “Madam, one would need to search many a bowling alley to find a woman of your quality.”

      • Molly Keener says:

        Oh, to be sure, Fred, Rowling has some great witticisms in her books. But I don’t believe she is on par with contemporary authors, such as Barbara Kingsolver, who are both gifted storytellers and masterful writers. Rowling isn’t a poor writer – she wouldn’t have had the success to date if that were true – she just doesn’t consistently wow me with her writing.

        • Fred says:

          Point taken. Having never read Kingsolver, which work would you suggest? Poisonwood Bible?

        • Molly says:

          “The Poisonwood Bible” was the first by Kingsolver that I read, and I loved it. However, two years ago I read “Prodigal Summer,” and loved it more! I’ve not read one of hers, fiction or nonfiction, that I haven’t enjoyed, but perhaps due to my love of the mountains, “Prodigal Summer” hit home in a deep place within. It’s stunning!

  3. Fred Fowler says:

    I hope that the ensuing post does not act as a spoiler in any way. I assume that all readers have finished enough of the book to get a sense for path the story is taking.

    As I progress through the book, I find that there are more similarities to the Potter books than I first recognized. Firstly, the saga begins with death and a struggle for power ensues. We see a great climax coming as a result of this struggle. Insofar as I have not finished Vacancy, I am speculating, but certainly the election and the fate of the Fields are potential climactic points. Secondly, the struggle for power brings out the “true colors” of people. Adult muggles are, in general clueless, despicable, or both. The adolescents are not much better in their behavior, but Rowling seems to place the blame for their shortcomings on parents and environment. She appears to agree with Lord Acton regarding the influence of moiney and power on the soul. Thirdly, the school is a focal point. Fourthly, governing bodies are not to be trusted. Finally, there are similarities in the names of the heroes- Harry and Barry. Interestingly (spoiler alert) both have a way of coming back from the dead.

    Let me kow if you think that I am overreaching with these observations. However, I will feel vindicated if Rowlings’ next effort prominenetly features a Larry.

  4. Fred says:

    This is the first Rowling book I have read, but I have seen all the movies. They are on my list, though, along with a hundred other worthy volumes. Having said that, I am pleased to see her tackle another genre. Certainly the Potter epic saga cannot be surpassed any time soon, so I am glad she is not writing an episodeVII. The proof is in the pudding. I doubt Vacancy will be up for the Booker award, but the characterizations are interesting if not a little depressing – it’s a bit like listening to a Blues concert- your troubles don’t seem so bad after hearing the sorry state of the lives of others. I look forward to future Works by Rowlng, and I hope she wil follow the lead of Stephen King who began with horror, but has produced works of sci fi, fantasy, crime, romance and a Western.

  5. Suzanne says:

    I am still wondering how someone can read only one Harry Potter book…anyway, having read all of them, and my kids (one of whom is now a sophomore at WFU) having read all of them, I don’t think J.K. Rowling has to prove anything. To anyone. I think she wanted to do something completely different and she did. I already finished Casual Vacancy because once I started I found it compelling and wanted to know what happened to all the characters. No, it does not wrap up neatly, but neither does life. I still felt her writing was wonderful and she still created a universe of interconnected characters–even though it was based in gritty reality. I would read anything she writes.

  6. Hu Womack says:

    I’ve only read one Harry Potter book and seen one of the movies. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, I’m just not a huge fan. That said, I loved this book! I agree with the reviews I have read that say Rowling is at her best when writing in the voice of the young people in this book. Her honest and unflinching look at small town life captivated me. If “The Casual Vacancy” is any indication, Rowling will have a long career ahead of her in adult literature if she is wants it!

  7. Audrey Lynge says:

    In true Potterhead fashion, I finished reading A Casual Vacancy within a week after it was published. I have to admit, however, reading it through was more of an act of loyalty to its author than and desire to find out what happens next. The characters in A Casual Vacancy were almost mirror opposite to the characters in the Harry Potter series. Whereas Harry Potter’s world was painted in vibrant colors, sparkles and rich with variety, A Casual Vacancy’s world was grey, dull, unattractive and confusing. I had to actively work at remembering the backstory to each persona while reading through, often getting characters mixed up with the wrong family or history. It was difficult when Harry Potter characters were killed off, which they were regularly in each book, but their absence was noted and they were celebrated (with the exception of Professor Quirrell). When the main character in A Casual Vacancy with whom I had the most hope died (spoiler alert), most of the people seemed unaffected. In fact, what was remarkable about the death that set up the story, and the casual vacancy, was the lack of dignity given the person (the scene of his dieing in a car park), his family (wimpy widow whose grief was apparently embarrassing) and the reaction of the towns people (basically contemptible). I was surprised. There is magic in the world, even the muggle world, but I wonder if JK Rowling can see it outside of the Potterverse. Surely she can. When she described the closed-in world of Mr. Dursley in the first Potter book, it was a delightful picture with sight-gag humor (owls flying around in daylight, bumping into the weirdly dressed wizard downtown). I do think Rowling could comment on everyday muggle life with the same irony she showed in Harry Potter and give us an adult read we would be informed by and enjoy. I am hoping now she has this first drab one out of the way, she will give it another try.

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