J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy: Accio excitement?

Casual Vacancy J.K. Rowling

As book titles go, The Casual Vacancy is pretty appropriate. Not only because a casual vacancy — a seat on a local city council made suddenly available by the unexpected death of its holder — is the circumstance around which J.K. Rowling’s latest novel revolves, but also because somehow this particular turn of phrase seems to define book itself: unceremoniously lackluster.

In light of the array of negative reviews that have already been written about TCV, I feel like I should start off with two editor’s notes. The first is that I’ve spent a fair amount of time daydreaming about what it would be like to be J.K. Rowling (like circa 2005, not during all that poor-person business) and so I sympathize with how difficult it must have been (in a first-world-problems sort of way) to even consider writing another book after the conclusion of the Harry Potter series. In Rowling’s place, I would have been sorely tempted to rest on my laurels (my $1 billion laurels) and hang it up Harper Lee style. I mean, we’re talking about the literary equivalent of Adele’s sophomore album (ignoring for the purposes of analogy that 21 was actually the sophomore album) — I’d at least have considered writing under a pen name.

I also want to note that I did not go into The Casual Vacancy expecting some sort of reprise of Harry Potter. I like to read about books before I buy them, and it was fairly widely reported that TCV was to be Rowling’s first grown-up novel , and therefore ostensibly not about magical candies and invisibility cloaks. (In other words, not like when R.L. Stine wrote Superstition, and it was basically just a longer Fear Street book with sex scenes.) I appreciate that Harry Potter will always be a thing unto itself, and that perhaps Rowling might have wanted to get as far away from the fantasy genre as possible, to forestall any potential murmurings about trying to best her own series.

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And then we came to the end

So little!

I suppose this week was a bit of a cheat, sort of like saying you ate a pint of ice cream for the calcium (something I have obviously never ever done.) After all, I didn’t read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows all that long ago. But rereading it seemed apropos; once I see the final Potter movieβ€”in approximately six months, when I’ll no longer have to step over wand-carrying 9-year-olds to find my seatβ€”that’ll be the end. No more Dumbledore or Hermione or horcruxes or thestrals. A decade of fiction, over at the closing credits.

But what could I possibly write about this week’s book? Harry Potter is pretty good? Best 700-page young adult novel since Harry Potter 6? Spoiler alert: Snape kills Dumbledore? There’s not much you can say about a cultural phenomenon that hasn’t been said in the last 10 years, or even the last 10 days. Except that there’s a bittersweet finality to closing the door on these kids right around the time I’ve finally accepted not being a kid myself.

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