As many of you know, the Harry Potter books began as children’s books and progressively turned into books for adults. But still, apart from the violence and darkness that you get in the never-ending battle of good vs. evil, the books by and large had nothing objectionable. There was kissing, some veiled references to couples hanging out together, and the only curse words in the series were “effing”, “damn,” and “bitch” (this last one only said only once). After finishing the Harry Potter books Rowling wanted to write something very different, something more “real.” And that she did.
Her newest book is called the Casual Vacancy. I have not read it because I think the e-book is overpriced, but according to several reviews I’ve read, it is set in the microcosm one finds in a small town with all its maladies. The book has drug addiction, suicide, rape, domestic violence and abuse, adultery, and pornography. The “F bomb” is dropped everywhere, there is a vivid description of a used condom, and a reference to a “miraculously unguarded vagina” that has gone viral on the internet.
By all accounts the book seems to be good. It has received very high praise from many major outlets of the publishing world, and it contains very sharp social commentary. Rowling was not naïve about what she was doing. This IS what she wanted to write about, and she knew many readers would not like it, which is exactly what happened. Even though readers knew this wasn’t Harry Potter, many still expected the high-flying themes and heroics of the Potter books, not the bleak landscape that they encountered in The Casual Vacancy. On Amazon The Casual Vacancy has a rating of 2.9 on 1,382 reviews. On Goodreads the rating is more favorable; 3.4 on 9,622 reviews. Compare these figures with the last book of the Harry Potter series (Harry Potter and the Deadly Halows) which has 4.6 on 3,766 reviews on Amazon and 4.53 on 741,168 reviews on Goodreads. Regardless of this, the book has become a best seller. However, I wonder how many of the readers turned off by this book will read more of her writing in the future?
Of course Rowling is rich and has a huge fan base. She can afford to lose some readers. But the same may not be the case for lesser known authors with smaller fan bases. How can a writer harmonize his/her desire to write something different with the desire of the fans for more of the same?
What do you think?
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