I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that J K Rowling’s first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, is a dark and somewhat depressing novel dealing with adult themes. Depressing themes such as drug addition, self-abuse, teenage sex, death – and Parish Councillors.
I shouldn’t be surprised because J K Rowling’s earlier books, the Harry Potter novels, are all pretty dark themselves. A children’s book about a boy wizard could have been a nice story where everything was lovely and jolly children were happy and safe all the time. But that would have been very dull. No, J K Rowling took a subject and looked at the dark side. Her novels were the better for it. Young wizards and witches learning to fly on broomsticks, mastering the art of wand use and experimenting with the use of, sometime deadly, spells, it all makes for a ripping yarn.
Of course the underlying story in Harry Potter has been told before. Harry, Ron and Hermione versus Voldemort, is little different from Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia versus Darth Vader. It’s classic good versus evil. So why shouldn’t J K Rowling look at the dark side of life?
I served for five years as a Parish Councillor in our village. I had been asked by some of my neighbours to attend a Parish Council meeting with them to complain about excessive noise from a near-by playground. When we arrived it was clear that they wanted me to do the talking, and so I did. A few days later the Chairman of the Parish Council knocked at my door to ask if I would be prepared to fill a ‘casual vacancy’ on the Parish Council. I think they thought it was better to have me with them rather than against them! I did join the Parish Council and made it very clear that I was interested in local tax payers’ money, or more to the point, on spending it wisely and not seeing it wasted. I tried my best, for 5 long years, at meeting after meeting to get the council to spend wisely. I tried and I failed. I eventually resigned after a Parish Council finance meeting where, when trying to make a valid point, I was told by another councillor to ‘SHUT UP’. We all gave our time for nothing and for the common good, but I did not give my time to be shouted down by a neighbour who thought he knew better than me. Perhaps he did, I don’t know, but we are all entitled to our opinion!
So I was interested to hear that J K Rowling was tackling the tricky subject of Parish Councillors. I have to say she got it spot on! What makes some of these people think that they know better than other people? What makes them think that they alone are uniquely qualified to decide what happens in a village and how public money is spent? I loved the hypocrisy in the book of a councillor who condemns others for being a drain on public resources, when he is hugely overweight and draining NHS resources fighting the health problems that self-inflicted obesity brings.
J K Rowling famously says that the idea for Harry Potter just popped into her head one day. Where she got idea for The Casual Vacancy from I don’t know, but it’s well written and researched, just dark and depressing. So should this woman be writing books that our children can read?
Actually I think she should.
Our son Nick was the wrong age for Harry Potter books. We read the first two or three books to him, but as he got older and read for himself, he tackled a Harry Potter book on his own. He struggled with it to be honest, he was a little young for it perhaps. He couldn’t get his head around the word ‘Dementors’, and I think they frightened him. Perhaps that’s not surprising. He gave up on the book, has not read Harry Potter since, and has refused to watch any of the films. That’s a shame really, but perhaps he will read them at some future time. Perhaps he will read them to his own children when he has them!
Read a Harry Potter book, or all seven, and then read The Casual Vacancy, and you will see the difference. They are all dark, but the children’s books are suitable for children, without adding adult themes or language only suitable for over 18’s. The fact that J K Rowling can write for both adults and children, just demonstrates her versatility as an author. That’s good. I finished reading The Casual Vacancy some weeks ago now, and I said then that I’ll probably not read any more of her novels for adults, but I think I’m backtracking on that. Actually I’m intrigued to see what she writes about next. J K Rowling has said that her next published book will be for children, and younger children than the Harry Potter books were for. But when her next adult book comes out, I will be downloading it to my Kindle.