Pot­ter fans em­brace Rowl­ing adult book amid mixed re­views

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Jill Law­less

LON­DON — J.K. Rowl­ing launched her long-an­tic­i­pated first book for adults to pub­lish­ing hype, mixed re­views and an en­thu­si­as­tic wel­come from Harry Pot­ter’s le­gion of now grown-up fans.

The lines were shorter and the wizard cos­tumes were miss­ing Thurs­day but The Ca­sual Va­cancy ap­peared to some of the same fan­fare that greeted each Pot­ter tome, with stores wheel­ing out crates of the books pre­cisely at 8 a.m. as part of a finely honed mar­ket­ing strat­egy.

Al­most 1,000 peo­ple were at­tend­ing a read­ing Thurs­day evening at Lon­don’s South­bank Cen­tre, most of them clutch­ing copies of the book to be signed by the au­thor.

Many were young adults who had grown up with Rowl­ing’s boy wizard and wanted to see what the au­thor would do next.

“She’s been such an in­spi­ra­tion to ev­ery­one,” said 18-year-old univer­sity stu­dent Milly An­der­son. “She’s not just in­flu­enced peo­ple’s child­hoods — she’s moulded them.”

An­der­son said she was lov­ing The Ca­sual Va­cancy — once she’d got over the change from read­ing sto­ries about Harry and his Hog­warts chums.

“There’s swear­ing and sex,” she said. “It’s a bit of a shock.”

Pub­lished five years af­ter the re­lease of the last Pot­ter book, The Ca­sual Va­cancy is al­ready at No. 1 on Ama­zon’s U.S. chart. Bet­ting house Wil­liam Hill put 2-1 odds on it out­selling Harry Pot­ter and the Deathly Hal­lows, which sold 2.6 mil­lion copies in Bri­tain on its first day.

A story of am­bi­tion, envy and ri­valry set in the fic­tional English vil­lage of Pag­ford, the novel re­counts the civic war­fare sparked when the un­ex­pected death of a town of­fi­cial leaves a va­cancy on its gov­ern­ing body. Char­ac­ters set on a col­li­sion course range from the af­flu­ent lawyer Miles Mol­li­son to the Wee­dons, a ram­shackle clan liv­ing in The Fields, the run-down hous­ing project on the edge of town.

Many of the early buy­ers were Harry Pot­ter fans who, like the au­thor, have moved on to more adult fare.

“I just like how much ex­cite­ment there is about a book,” said 23-year-old Grace Proc­tor, a “mas­sive” Pot­ter fan who was first to buy the book at one Lon­don store.

“I think there are go­ing to be peo­ple who will hate it just be­cause they can hate it,” she said. “But she’s such an amaz­ing writer, I don’t think she can go wrong.”

Rowl­ing has said she was aim­ing for Dick­en­sian sweep in the multi-char­ac­ter saga, whose doses of sex, satire and swear­ing mark a dis­tinct de­par­ture from whole­some Harry.

Re­views have been mixed. The As­so­ci­ated Press judged it a chal­leng­ing but re­ward­ing read full of emo­tion and heart. AP’s Deepti Ha­jela said while its trou­bled char­ac­ters mean “this isn’t a book that’s easy to fall in love with ... what could have been an un­read­able story be­comes some­thing else in Rowl­ing’s hands, thanks to her gift of be­ing able to make her char­ac­ters com­plex and re­ally, just hu­man.”

But the New York Times’ in­flu­en­tial book critic, Michiko Kakutani, was damn­ing.

“The real-life world she has limned in these pages is so wil­fully ba­nal, so de­press­ingly clichéd that The Ca­sual Va­cancy is not only dis­ap­point­ing — it’s dull,” she said.

The Guardian news­pa­per’s re­viewer, Theo Tait, said it was “no mas­ter­piece, but it’s not bad at all: in­tel­li­gent, work­man­like, and of­ten funny.”

The In­de­pen­dent’s Boyd Tonkin found the some­times “long-winded and la­bo­ri­ous” writ­ing soared when Rowl­ing fo­cused on her teenage char­ac­ters.

Oth­ers, though, felt the lack of lik­able char­ac­ters might alien­ate read­ers. The Daily Mail re­viewer Jan Moir also slammed Rowl­ing’s stark fo­cus on Pag­ford’s haves and have-nots as the work of a “left-lean­ing dem­a­gogue” paint­ing “a bleak and rather one-sided vi­sion of life in mod­ern Eng­land.”

It’s likely noth­ing Rowl­ing pub­lishes will ever match the suc­cess of the Pot­ter books, which have sold more than 450 mil­lion copies around the world.

But book­sellers are con­fi­dent The Ca­sual Va­cancy will be one of the year’s best­sellers, what­ever re­view­ers say.

“A lot of chil­dren have grown up with Harry Pot­ter. They’re now adults who love books,” said Su­san Sin­clair, di­vi­sional man­ager for the Foyles book­store chain.

“I think it’s go­ing to be a re­ally big seller at Christ­mas. It’ll be an easy gift — but also a good one.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TOS

A Lon­don book­store em­ployee (top) looks at the new, adult novel by Harry Pot­ter cre­ator J.K. Rowl­ing (in­set).

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