I popped into our local independent bookstore recently to check out J K Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy. Sorry Jo, I’m sure you’ll be massively disappointed to hear (irony alert) that I’m not a potential fan.
There are two main reasons for this—and they are interconnected. Firstly, the writing is just too thin. Rowling has a straightforward and somewhat flat writing style. For the average young reader (as in the Harry Potter series), this was a plus—they aren’t used to challenging texts, and in fact generally find the mere length of a Potter novel difficult enough. Some young readers will go on to read more complex works, however the majority will merely move sideways into equally lightweight YA novels which require the kind of skim reading that the digitally-connected now find easiest to do. For a reader seeking a richer reading experience, however, Rowling’s style has neither the limpid clarity of Jane Austen, the poetic resonance of Hardy, nor the magisterial moral depth of George Eliot—all of whom deal with “ small worlds” (in different ways!).
Secondly, in detailing her particular “small world”, Rowling seems to engage in some pretty clichéd characterization. Like her writing style, there’s just not enough to it. I think Rowling has spent too long in the land of the YA novel where the tired old stereotype and the clichéd trope still haven’t passed their use-by date.
The big book about a small English town was written long ago. If you are interested, make an expedition to the wilds of the Nineteenth century English novel section of your local library—some of the finest minds, the deepest thinkers, the most compassionate of observers of our muddle-minded human kind can be found there.