Post-HP Rowling: Does She Still Have It?

JK Rowling

The incomparable Jo Rowling, one of my heroes (or heroines, whatevs).

Hello, my followers and friends (or random visitor — hopefully a potential follower and/or friend)! Sorry I haven’t uploaded anything lately: I’ve been so busy lately finishing my first year of uni, and it’s just getting busier with Christmas approaching, but I’ve made myself sit down and write this double-review that I’ve been meaning to do for ages.

J.K. Rowling, author extraordinaire, has released two novels since she finished her global phenomenon that is the Harry Potter series. You might be wondering, are they any good? How can you compare anything to Harry Potter? Why would you even try? Well, I’ll try my best to answer these questions (and more!) in my reviews of The Casual Vacancy (2012) and The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013).

Published firmly in the genre of contemporary/literary adult fiction, The Casual Vacancy was never going to escape the limelight that Harry Potter had created. Never. Not in a hundred years. It’s a sad, but true, fact that Rowling will never be judged solely on her writing ability any longer (she even tried to write under a pseudonym — which lasted all of three months), that she can never escape from her own shadow. It’s the saddest part of fame, I think. And, for that reason, The Casual Vacancy has got a disgusting rating on Goodreads, and is overall viewed as a disappointing next-novel from such a literary great.

That said: I don’t agree at all! I think it is a magical novel, with a charm all its own. I think it isn’t very well liked because people pick it up for the wrong reasons. They pick it up because it is by J.K. Rowling, and not because it is something that sounds interesting to them, or is part of a genre they enjoy. I guess I’m one of the lucky few (or so it seems) that thoroughly enjoys well-written fantasy AND contemporary/literary fiction (or, anything well-written, really).

The Casual Vacancy cover

I am in love with this cover…though I’ve always been a sucker for both English landscapes/cityscapes/villagescapes and curly lettering. It’s a pity I have a different edition…

The characters are so clearly drawn, so amazingly crafted, I feel as though I know them. I feel as though I could pass them on the street, wave at them as they put the bins out across the road from me, smile at them as they serve me my food, cry at their funeral…

Everything ties in together blissfully. I get excited when seemingly trivial details become important later on, and I especially loved how different characters’ stories intertwined (one of my absolute favourite parts includes a girl, a river and a computer — not to be too explicit for those of you who are still to read it). And yet, everything ties in together realistically. I think that’s important in a novel claiming to be contemporary fiction — fiction doesn’t mean that you can make anything up, it still has to remain consistent and plausible. I think Rowling does this wonderfully.

There is one thing that I got slightly annoyed with in the book, and that is the use of parentheses. Rowling apparently loves to use parenthetical asides, and long ones at that. There’s nothing wrong in itself about that, but there were times when she should have been using parentheses (I thought) but she didn’t. Maybe I was missing the point of them? Aside from that (which wasn’t really that big a deal, just me being a pedant as usual), I absolutely loved this novel.

I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the magic (of a different kind) that is this novel, but please, if you haven’t read it and it does sound like something you’d enjoy (a heavy, populated novel focussed on the politics and passions of a supposedly idyllic village) please do read it. And if you have read it, please leave me a comment below! Do you agree or disagree with my judgement? I’d love to hear from you!

How JK Rowling came up with the name Robert Galbraith?

I know this is completely stupid, but it made me chuckle. Apparently Rowling’s always liked the name Robert, and Galbraith was just a surname that had stuck with her since childhood. Funny how it turned out to literally translate as ‘famous stranger’.

And now onwards, to review “Robert Galbraith” and his debut foray into crime fiction. I must say, I would never have picked this up if it hadn’t been revealed that it was Rowling in disguise, so I am kind of glad for that. But I’m not glad that a lawyer from the firm of solicitors she uses (presumably in her publishing contracts and rights of reproduction and whatnot) was the one that leaked her secret to the world, through Twitter. Shame on them, whoever they are. I hope they don’t feel good about themselves (although they probably do). It really wasn’t fair to blurt out somebody else’s secret, one which had been expected to remain confidential for at least a little while longer.

BUT, like I said, if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have picked the book up. And not just because I’m not big on crime fiction, although I do love a good Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers (yes, shut up, I like golden age stuff, what of it?), but mainly because I hadn’t even seen it in bookstores yet. I’d never heard of The Cuckoo’s Calling before she was outed. She wasn’t even given half a chance. Not even a year, or enough time for it really to gain a following. And it makes me grieve that Robert Galbraith died before he really had a chance to live.

Enough doom and gloom, though, eh? Except, well, this novel is about a lot of doom and gloom. There is a lot of death (though none of it happens during the story: it’s all about the consequences of death). There is a lot of brokenness, and the characters felt whole and rounded out, and Rowling did her trick again of bringing these people to life, like they could actually be living, breathing human beings. And I think, for her, they are, which is maybe one of the reasons why I love her and her writing so much.

It’s so hard to review this book without giving away anything crucial or repeating what’s on the blurb already, but, I must say, I love the chemistry between Strike and Robin. So not cliché, and everything it should be. Just perfect. It was agonisingly slow to get started, but the payoff was worth it, and it makes sense that the plot has to be set up so the reader feels comfortable in the created world. I mean, I got why it was so slow, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Hopefully the sequel (and Rowling herself did say a sequel is coming out next year) will be better, without having to set up the protagonists as well as everyone else. I really am looking forward to the sequel, even though I struggled a bit to get through the first third.

The Cuckoo's Calling cover

The Cuckoo’s Calling…the cover doesn’t give much away, but I do love it.

Would I recommend it? Mm, hard to say really. If you like crime fiction in general, if you like crime fiction that it’s possible for you to solve as well (like a Sherlock Holmes story, the clues were all there), if you like descriptive writing and characters as compelling as the plot…if you like any or all of these things, then you’ll like the novel. But, if you wouldn’t ordinarily pick up a crime novel, then it’s probably not your cup of tea. Then again, if you’re wanting a book to read that’s a bit outside your comfort zone, I’d say give it a go. I’m not that into crime fiction, and I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Have you read it? Did you like it? Please, leave a comment below!

So, has Rowling still got it? I think she most definitely has, and I look forward to many more novels with much excitement. Plus, I can’t wait for The Casual Vacancy BBC1 TV series that seems to be in the works, and I don’t understand why she can’t write a sequel to that as well (she might be, I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like it). I mean, if they can do a season two of Broadchurch, why not a sequel to The Casual Vacancy? And I’m sure there’s probably going to be an adaptation of The Cuckoo’s Calling somewhere along the lines. In other, slightly related news, I am so unbelievably excited for the film version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It’s going to be fantastic!

The Casual Vacancy: ★★★★★ 5 stars

The Cuckoo’s Calling: ★★★★☆ 4 stars

Happy reading! May all your Christmas presents be books and things you love!