When J.K. Rowling's first big after-Potter book came out several years ago, I resisted buying it. I am a fan of Harry Potter, not necessarily of Joanne Rowling. I recognize that we would have no H.P. without J.K., of course, and I think the books are beautifully written, but I am not regularly in the habit of following authors no matter what they write.
I then found a mint condition hard cover copy of A Casual Vacancy at a local book sale for just two dollars and I thought, "Why not?"
I read it and I enjoyed it and, even if the subject matter was not necessarily my cup of tea, I recognized that it was extremely well written. Sometimes I think the quality of Rowling's writing gets lost in the excitement and pace of the Potter novels but, in ACV, it comes shining through.
So I was surprised when a friend from work brought up the subject of the book the other day and complained that he felt that Rowling was "trying too hard" in her first big non-Potter novel. "Trying too hard" were his exact words, implying that Rowling overdid the emotion, the complexity, the maturity of ACV in an effort to prove to the world that she is not just a writer of Young Adult fiction.
I'm not sure how I'm reacting to this criticism. I don't agree with it, to be certain, but why am I so angry about it?
If I had to take guess, I'd say that the criticism is unfair to Rowling because the problem is in the reader not in the writing. Since my friend knew J.K. only as a YA writer, he was likely hyper-sensitive to the adult themes of ACV. If he had come into the new novel not knowing who had written it, he probably would have liked it a lot more; because he knew it was Rowling who wrote it, and he associated Rowling with writing for young people, he felt the impact of the mature themes of the new book much more strongly, perhaps too strongly.
Does that make sense?
I'll have to continue to think about it. I do know that I appreciate in ACV the sincere effort Rowling made to do something different, the impressive complexity of her plot and character roster in this book and the strength of the emotional impact of the book.
I also know that, like Dick Francis, Rowling displays an effortless command of the language, of grammar and punctuation, of plot construction and character development.
She is a remarkably polished writer and someone like me, who considers himself to be something of a writer himself, can learn a great deal, must by reading Rowling's books.