Thursday 2 August 2012

JK Rowling's forthcoming novel - a prediction...


JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, has a grown-ups novel coming out next month called The Casual Vacancy.

Will it be good?

Well, now is the time to make a prediction, before I have read it.


I don't like the title, I don't like the plot summary, I don't even like the idea of her doing a modern adult 'literary' novel (which is a dead genre, IMHO)... so I am having a hard job looking forward to reading it.

But, being in the midst of sequentially reading aloud the whole of the Harry Potter series (currently nearly half way through the Half Blood Prince) I must rationally set aside my fear and dread, and have confidence that she will pull-off this improbable venture, and will be publishing another triumph.

The Harry Potter books are just so good - and the fact that she wrote the last five under immense and intense and indeed unprecedented public scrutiny is a hugely impressive feat - so she could do it again, I think.


How good are the Harry Potter books?

I think they are in the same league as, at or above the level of, the Narnia Chronicles in terms of Childrens' fantasy (below Lord of the Rings, of course, because everything is) - and in terms of novels as such they are at the level of Thomas Hardy or Anthony Trollope (which is second rank by the strictest criteria).

As novels they have many virtues, too many to list; most importantly including deep moral seriousness and genuine heroism - but their partial defect is in the sheer quality of the prose, which is considerably below the highest level.

There are also some fairly serious structural implausabilities in Prisoner, Goblet and Phoenix, upon which hinge major aspects of the plots: viz: the excessive power of the Time-Turner, the unbelievable sustained impersonation of Moody, the unexplained self-distancing from Harry by Dumbledore - why unexplained?, the notion that Sirius - a powerful wizard and animagus - was unable to leave Headquarters for months...

So they are not first rank - but their rank is very high, and probably higher than anything else in recent decades.


Can she do it again?

Well, why not?

As a person, JKR has never struck me in her public interviews and speeches as very smart, or very interesting, or very impressive - her personality seems poorly-integrated, her extensive facial plastic surgery (starting from about 2003) and embarrassingly juvenile dress style seem like evidence of lack of unrealistic vanity and shallowness

- but then all geniuses (especially women geniuses) are odd, so that does not make any difference, really.

I shall have a hard job getting myself to read Casual Vacancy - and maybe I will need more than one attempt - but in the end I expect to won over by it.



dearieme said...

"a modern adult 'literary' novel (which is a dead genre, IMHO)..": have you read Hilary Mantel's two crackers about Thomas Cromwell?

Or would you class these as "historical fiction" and therefore not 'literary'?

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearime - yes, my point is that all the best work is now in genre fiction; and this sounds like genre fiction.

The 'literary' novel need not be literary in any meaningful sense, but is non-genre and self-consciously 'literary' (or pretentious) - and eligible for entry to/ has a chance of winning the Booker Prize and similar things.

I mean writers like John Fowles and Julian Barnes (to name two examples I particularly dislike - I could add the Nobel Laureate William Golding).

dearieme said...

WKPD: "Hilary Mary Mantel ... is an English novelist, short story writer and critic. Her work, ranging in subject from personal memoir to historical fiction, has been short-listed for major literary awards. ... In 2009, she won the Man Booker Prize for her novel Wolf Hall[about Thomas Cromwell]."