Full disclaimer: I loved the Harry Potter books. I’m a total Harry Potter nerd, and have already turned Vaughn into one (he was Harry for Halloween last year) and am easily working on Ailsa (who wants to be Hermione next year) and little Ginny Weasley – I mean, Tamsin. After reading the first four in a row, I became one with the kids who penned letters to J.K. herself, wishing, begging her to write another and tell us more about Hogwarts. In 2006, Chris and I stood in an extremely long line at Chapters at midnight to buy the 7th book (along with young teenagers and their parents… turns out that Chris knew the man in line behind us. “I’m buying it for my 14-year-old daughter,” he shrugged and smiled. Chris and I: Awkward silence). We lined up for an hour to watch the premiere of The Goblet of Fire (and were bitterly disappointed and furious when, with 10 minutes to go, upon Professor McGonagall’s announcement that “A boy is dead!” the picture suddenly went black, and we could still hear the movie, but not see it). (We got free passes and a refund.) (Humph.)
So, when I saw J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy in my mom’s books-to-pass-on box, I nabbed it up immediately, unsure of what to expect from a non-Harry book.
It’s no Harry Potter. At halfway through the book, I was less than impressed. Pagford, a (fictional) rural town in England (I had to look it up), is a far cry from Hogsmeade. The characters are unhappy, foul-mouthed, rude, selfish, unattractive, and self-destructive. They dabble in deceit, drug-use, domestic and child abuse, prostitution, and generally being terrible people. They use the c-word! (!!!) (this is not as shocking in the UK, I suppose, but yikes!)
I’d like to think that Rowling wanted to distance herself from the world of wizards and magic, to prove that she could write something so different from the Harry Potter series just to show that she’s versatile, and a REAL author – like there was any doubt of that. That her original books appeal strongly to – and are compulsively read by – kids and adults alike, is enough to cement her place as a writer, and on re-reading her books (as I’ve been doing with Vaughn), I am often struck by her descriptors and turns of phrase.
And then there’s Pagford.
Up to about the three-quarter mark, I was reading it out of a fascination with the vulgar... I felt slightly ill while reading, but couldn't stop.
And then. And THEN!
When I finished it, I had to admit again what I already knew: man, she can write. It's a gift to be able to create characters and situations that come alive, outcomes that people care about, and for me, to be able to put down a book and be so moved and impressed by its ending... wow. (I can't even describe it as more than "wow".)
I followed it up a few months later with "her" other new book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It's written as a screenplay, which was a bit off-putting at first, and is actually written by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. It has Harry only in a supporting role, with his second son as the main character, and Draco's son as his best friend.
All in all, J.K. Rowling's story, from starving single mom to an author world-renowned for her talent is an inspiration to me, and the fact that she is still creating and producing more, branching out in different genres, knocking it out of the ballpark each time, is amazing.
(hey, I started out cranky...)