Is The Casual Vacancy beyond criticism ?

A Casual VacancyPhil: Today sees the publication of JK Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter book, The Casual Vacancy.

According to a recent interview, Rowling is in the happiest place for any author. She can write what she likes and not worry if it’s any good. That’s what making a billion from boy wizardry does for you. She also knows the work will be published and people will buy it. They will buy it by the bucket-load and some will like it and others hate it.

Rowling claims not to be to worried by this and I think I believe her.

When team nolanparker take criticism for our work we know it’s not personal. The comments are made in a vacuum. We arrive with no baggage. This has good and bad sides. On one hand we are judged purely on the quality of our output. The critic wouldn’t know us if we ran up to them in the street and slapped them across the chops with a wet haddock.

Unfortunately, not knowing us means we don’t come with a track record that will give us a free pass with any niggles in our story. Rowling could have cut’n’pasted a book full of Lorem Ipsum into the manuscript and the publisher would print it. To be honest, they know this is such a sure-fire seller that they probably didn’t bother reading it before giving production the green light. Lots of celebs get the same deal.

What Rowling doesn’t get is criticism free from baggage. There are plenty of hacks who wrote their review of this book weeks ago. They hate it, yet they have no more read a copy than the people rioting in the Middle East have seen the film that offends them so much. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the text, people like to read bad reviews in the newspaper and the literary desk doesn’t get the chance of a big sales boosting story very often. This book could be as great as Shakespeare, in fact it probably has a better storyline than most of his stuff, the literary critics won’t like it. And when you know this, you can’t take much notice of what they write.

Another point it, this won’t be “Great Literature”, it will be readable and (from the reports of those who have read it) good fun. Going back to Billy S from Stratford, his plays were popular in their time. Being adopted by the great and good is a relatively new proposition. Once upon a time, those who love him would have considered the work beneath contempt because the plebs liked it and the words weren’t in Latin.

I hope The Casual Vacancy is good. I’ll probably buy a copy myself, when I find it second-hand, as the synopsis sounds interesting. To be honest though, I think its very existence is A Good Thing since it shows the most succesful author ever really does write for the right reasons, because she loves to do it and has a story to tell.

Update: The BBC has summarised the reviews. Looks like I wasn’t far wrong. The things I hadn’t counted on were the political views of the newspapers concerned – this is a book about class and social mobility or the lack of it. Also the general ItsNotHarryPotterWhyIsntItHarryPotterIWantMoreHarryPotter from anyone who uses the word “Muggles” in a review.


Filed under Phil, Publishing

4 responses to “Is The Casual Vacancy beyond criticism ?

  1. Whatever you do in life someone will criticise it. When I am out painting, someone will always come along, look over my shoulder and say “My little Wayne could do better than that and he’s only ten!” .
    I had an open evening at a gallery near Bordeaux last Thursday with nibbles and wine ( and a very nice lot of people who were very willing to discuss my work and were quite frank in their views (they were French and I am English) and with the help of Jean Phillippe my snail farmer friend a lively discussion ensued. Criticism has come to mean negativity but I think you can always take something positive from other people’s views especially when you want them to buy your stuff. There are millions of artists better than me but also millions who are not as good, I just go ahead and try to improve my technique and interpretation of subjects and develop an individual style and hope people like and enjoy my work enough to by it.
    I don’t like the Harry Potter books.

  2. I suppose the response to ““My little Wayne could do better than that and he’s only ten!” is, “So what. I’m enjoying myself” although thier reply would (if they are being honest) be, “So am I. Denegrating people I don’t know for no reason gives me a bit of pleasure in my otherwise bleak and pathetic existance.”

    Criticism should be taken for what it is in the art world – someone else’s opinion. Obvioulsy if you wish to sell to that person then you need to pay attention but otherwise it is just that – an opinion. Out here, somewhere, is a person for who our book and your pictures are the greatest things in the whole world. Obviously, we’d both like to find that person and ideally, discover they have friends who share thier taste, but one is a start.

  3. Mender

    I tried reading this book, but found it unnecessarily nasty (after a kid drops the f-bomb 15 times, we get it – he’s a potty mouth; it doesn’t have to littered the next bazillion pages), lacking of one likeable character, no real plot, no literary genius … just a big, big ole nothing. It’s boring, offensive and, frankly, unbelieveable. I look forward to getting a refund!

    • The problem is that if you want to be realistic, including “the f-bomb” in dialogue is going to be a necessary evil for some characters. Take a ride on a bus through the sort of area that Rowling write about and you’ll here people including it in every sentence. Perhaps you could reduce the incidence a bit once the book gets going to but to remove it would make the speach as wrong as if the character suddenly launched into recieved pronunciation.

      Good luck on getting a refund – do any book stores do this ?

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