J.K. Rowling has released her first novel for adults. Amidst strict security, legally binding contracts forbidding journalists from revealing details before the book's release, and the mother of all PR machines, 'The Casual Vacancy' was already a bestseller before it even hit the shelves. So far, so good. But from there on the news has been less favourable.
Reviews have been at best, mixed, some have been scathing. As an unknown writer who can only dream of a BBC interview, endlessly repeated on the news channel, I should probably confess here to a degree of jealousy. I'm also ashamed to say that there was a part of me that revelled in the fact that the book might be less than great. Seriously, if even J.K. Rowling can stumble, there's hope for the rest of us. But I also wonder if that's part of the problem. Maybe it just wasn't possible for her to produce a book that wouldn't be ripped to shreds and analysed at the deepest level. How many writers could withstand the kind of scrutiny and expectation she labours under?
She's also come in for criticism for insulting the middle class inhabitants of her childhood village, for being too left wing and prejudiced, and now the Sikh community is apparently deeply offended by her portrayal of a Sikh girl. It's all descending into madness. The idea that authors should tiptoe about the issues, stifling their creative impulse to avoid offending anyone is absurd. Think of the great works that would never have been written if every author worked that way.
The creator of Harry Potter was probably always destined to have a hard time moving on to other projects, not because she is in any way lacking in skill and ideas, far from it, but simply because the media are hellbent on picking fault. So, for all my embarrassing professional jealousy and schadenfreude, I hope 'The Casual Vacancy' continues to sell well and that J.K. Rowling goes on to write many more books. She is, without question, a brilliant writer, and the danger is that if her work is continually subjected to unbalanced examination, we might just prevent her from releasing a story that could rival Harry Potter. That's not something we can afford to do.
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