The countdown began months ago but I begin to feel real anticipation when we are one or two lunar cycles away from the appearance of Casual Vacancy, Joanne Rowling’s first post Hogwarts Saga novel. It doesn’t hurt that men like Bruce Charlton, friend of this blog, has posted his thoughts on Ms Rowling as a writer in the form of “predictions” about Vacancy. He doesn’t actually make any predictions per se about what the book will contain or be about but he is much more enthused than he was at the publisher’s announcement of the title. Let me try to be more specific with my crystal ball to re-start the ball rowling, if you will, here.
I think it all comes down to the meaning of “adult novel,” the big difference between Vacancy and Harry Potter. I’d assume “adult” means at least five things akin to an ‘R’ rating in films, that is, ‘what keeps the movie from earning the coveted G-is-for-Disney rating.’
(1) Rough language: we saw hints of this in the Hogwarts Saga and I expect a heavy dose of realism in the language of this novel. F-bombs galore? Probably. Something like dung bombs with Fred and George, one or two won’t be enough.
(2) ‘Bedroom time’ won’t be about going to sleep. Expect either scenes of physical intimacy or revelations of infidelity and hypocrisy. Something shocking or disturbing for children but somehow challenging and important for adults (sic)… Remember two of Ms. Rowling’s three favorite writers are Nabokov and Collette, role models for some prurient writing.
(3) The Unhappy Ending: it may be a ring composition or alchemical drama (I’d bet a lot on the ring, frankly) but the flavor of the finale, I fear, will be more like King Lear than Much Ado About Nothing. I’m guessing dissolution and despair, an existential ennui with a few comic reversals.
(4) The Literary novel: Call it the ‘Equus Moment.’ Just as Daniel Radcliffe had to take a daring adult part to earn his acting street cred (and distance himself from childish things), I expect Ms. Rowling’s first novel post Harry will be more like Pynchon and Proust than E. Nesbit or Elizabeth Goudge. Heavy on introspection and elevated language — she’s had five years to raise her game in this regard.
(5) The Political Hammer: As Eric noted here, the first Rowling adventure starts with a baby named Harry who lives and the second has an adult named Barry who dies. Forgive me for believing that this points to Ms. Rowling penning and publishing a liberal jeremiad of sorts contra the political death (electoral assassination?) of Barrack Obama, known as ‘Barry’ when a young man. Why?
The author believes, for good reason I think, that her celebrity and wealth gives her certain powers to influence others and that she is obliged to accept that and do her best with said power. Given the Gryffindor colored ballot on the book’s cover and timing of the publication — not only ‘in time for Christmas’ but also on the eve of the 2012 Presidential election — I find it more than credible that this “political fairy tale” will be a harsh view of a world trending conservative, ‘Dursley-ish’ if you will, and a postmodern defense of tolerance (in neglect of hospitality).
Along with Eric, then, I’d say the first note Casual Vacancy’s political transparency is that “if Barry dies (Barack is not re-elected), all the fault lines in western society will be exposed in convulsion.” Or, as plausible, maybe she will be expressing her frustration, qua Laborite, with President Obama (and English liberals) ‘casually vacating’ their progressive, socialist principles and leaving the world to Uncle Vernon and Aunt Marge Thatcher.
Either way… A friend wrote me from the West Coast to say: “Sounds like she’s now bidding to be considered her generation’s George Orwell. We’ll just see.” Could ‘Casual Vacancy’ be Ms. Rowling’s bid to become a wry political satirist and commentator? I think that is likely. And, as likely as not, unfortunate. As Flannery O’Connor famously wrote to a friend, “”The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail.” Rightist or leftist, political fiction is rarely Orwellian in insight or breadth of view, not to mention ‘literate.’
I look forward to reading it nonetheless, because I enjoy Ms. Rowling’s work. I expect Casual Vacancy, however political, will also be wickedly funny and acidly critical of cartoon targets like politicians, teachers, reporters, and, an addition to her repertoire, clerics and Church Ladies. No doubt with back stories for each to show them in a more sympathetic light? Let’s hope she is that generous now that she is unleashed from her previous audience and genre restraints.
Fun moment to expect: her juvenile delinquents making a disparaging Harry Potter reference or an adult criticizing the books or a churchmen reading same. It has be to be in there somewhere.
Please share below what you anticipate in Vacancy, what you’re anticipating with delight and secretly dreading!