Do you really want J.K. Rowling, the woman who is essentially Harry Potter's mum, to be whispering in your ear about sex? Isn't it, well, kind of icky?
That is the impression we had after reading Ian Parker's profile of Rowling in the Oct. 1 issue of The New Yorker.
Rowling, of course, is the 47-year-old author of the phenomenally best-selling, seven-book Harry Potter series for children, published between 1997 and 2007. More than 450 million copies of the books have been sold worldwide; they have been translated into 73 languages; eight films have been made, and Rowling has amassed quite a nice fortune.
Parker writes that he read her 512-page novel, The Casual Vacancy, “in the New York offices of Little, Brown, after signing a non-disclosure agreement whose first draft—later revised—had prohibited me from taking notes.”
He goes on: “Within a few pages, it was clear that the novel had not been written for children: 'The leathery skin of her upper cleavage radiated little cracks that no longer vanished when decompressed.' A little later, a lustful boy sits on a school bus 'with an ache in his heart and in his balls.'” Not to mention phrases like “that miraculously unguarded vagina.”
What did we tell you? Ick.
The Casual Vacancy, which the publisher bills as “a big novel about a small town,” deals with the aftermath of the death of a character named Barry Fairbrother, who leaves an empty seat on the parish council. The publisher's description notes, “Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils.”
The “casual vacancy” (a term for a seat left open because of death or scandal) left by Barry's death provokes “the biggest war the town has yet seen.”
Though we might be a bit skeeved out, give Rowling her props for standing up for her authorial rights. She wanted to stretch her wings beyond the realm of fantasy (“I had a lot of real-world material in me, believe you me,” she told Parker).
As for the sexy bits, she remarked, “There is no part of me that feels that I represented myself as your children’s babysitter or their teacher,” adding, “I was always, I think, completely honest. I’m a writer, and I will write what I want to write.”
And according to Rowling, you just can't have sex in a fantasy: “The thing about fantasy—there are certain things you just don’t do in fantasy. You don’t have sex near unicorns. It’s an ironclad rule. It’s tacky.”
OK, whatever. But is the book good?
In her “ostentatiously unremitting” description of a housing project near Pagford, “Rowling’s empathy can feel like condescension.” But with a touch of condescension of his own, Parker writes, “The Casual Vacancy will certainly sell, and it may also be liked. There are many nice touches … But whereas Rowling’s shepherding of readers was, in the Harry Potter series, an essential asset, in The Casual Vacancy her firm hand can feel constraining. ... We seem to watch people move around Pagford as if they were on Harry’s magical parchment map of Hogwarts.”
Maybe Rowling should have stayed in fantasyland.
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