Let me preface this post by first saying that I have not read Rowling's latest work, and in all honesty, I have no real desire to read it after the dismal reviews and critiques it has received. According to an article published on Yahoo!News that came out a few weeks ago, the novel was widely panned by several media outlets.
Here are a few of the comments well-known news outlets had to say concerning The Casual Vacancy:
According to The New York Times: "Unfortunately, the real-life world she has limned in these pages is so willfully banal, so depressingly clichéd that “The Casual Vacancy” is not only disappointing — it’s dull."
According to The Guardian: "Generally, though, The Casual Vacancy is a solid, traditional and determinedly unadventurous English novel."
According to the Daily News: "'The Casual Vacancy,' which one bookseller breathlessly predicted would be the biggest novel of the year, isn't dreadful. It's just dull."
But these are just major newspapers. What do they know, right? So, I did a little light reading on Amazon, and guess what I found? Yep, 280+ similar one-starred reviews. Basically, Rowling's attempt at writing adult fiction boils down to three words — sad, miserable, and dull. Not quite the cheery words the author was going for, I would assume.
And, of course, I bet you can't guess what Rowling said would be her next move. That's right! She's going back to writing for children.
But where did it all go wrong and why, when it came to The Casual Vacancy?
According to this article published by Children's Literature Association Quarterly written by David Galef, those authors who wish to write both children's literature and adult literature fall into three categories:
- Writers of adult fiction who take up writing children's literature in mid-career. As we all know, this is not what Rowling chose to do, but there have been some authors successful with this formula. One recent example in this category is John Grisham and his Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer series. Unfortunately, those who fail at crossing over into children's lit tend to just dumb-down what they've already written, not taking into consideration that there's a real transition to adhere to when it comes to writing for children. Children are looking to learn something new in a style that speaks directly to them. A few other good examples David Galef cites in this category are Roald Dahl and Antoine de Saint Exupèry. These two authors wrote works that appeal to a broader audience, but are originally intended for children. In some ways, one could argue that Harry Potter falls into this category, but Rowling actually started her career intending her work to be written for the middle-grade audience alone, thus starting her career out in kid's lit, not jumping on the boat later on down the line.
- Those who start out writing for children and later decide to write for adults. This is where we'll find Ms. Rowling and her Potter Universe. These authors have already achieved fame in the children's market, and thus that fandom spills over into their adult works. Let's take a look at Rowling for a moment. She has extensive fame through the publication of her Harry Potter novels, with a very solid fan base. Having these elements in place allowed for her to take her hush-hush adult novel to shelves with nary a word about the storyline. Immediately sales soared on sites such as Amazon, even though barely anyone knew what she'd written. But do blind sales necessarily translate into success? In Rowling's case, no.
- Authors who balance an array of diverse projects from the beginning of their careers. These types of writers are few and far between. According to David Galef, two good examples are Louisa May Alcott and C.S. Lewis. They were both prolific authors who learned how to develop the craft well and use it to their advantages. It takes a certain ability to know how to write for various markets. Someone who is a master at writing, say, mysteries, will run into problems if he/she decides to delve into fantasy. This is why we come to associate certain genres with certain authors. When we think of James Patterson, crime fiction easily comes to mind. When we think of Philippa Gregory, historical fiction easily comes to mind, and so on. Crossing over is no easy task, and it takes studying the new genre to make it work for the author.
Another curious reason that popped up in many of the lackluster reviews was how Rowling chose to craft the storyline. When in a child's mind, there is a simplistic way of viewing the world. Life tends to be more black and white than the gray world Rowling thrusts her readers into with The Casual Vacancy. Many critiquers bemoaned her choice to use so much profanity throughout the entirety of the book, particularly the f-bomb. Many of these individuals found the characters too numerous and hard to keep track of, not to mention the one-dimensions Rowling thrusts said characters into. Many scenes get overly graphic, causing readers to skip ahead or simply put the book down altogether. And because of these reasons, many reviewers believed Rowling was simply trying too hard to write for an adult market.
And perhaps there in lies the main problem with Rowling's novel. She is used to writing for a market that doesn't need deep prose or the wittiest and catchiest of dialogue. But when it came to crafting a world strictly read by adults, she perhaps felt the need to throw in everything she could get her hands on to make the story believable and relatable to her audience. But throwing too much in destroys a storyline, taking the reader on tangents that don't need to be there.
Grant it, the lady has guts to step out of the box her readers have put her into, but I hope that through this experience she has learned where her true talent lies.
Are you a genre-crossing writer (and by this I mean have you written more than one book pertaining to two completely different genres)? Have you read The Casual Vacancy? If so, do you feel Rowling completely missed the mark or did she actually hit the nail on the head when it comes to writing for the adult market? Can you think of any other authors who have been successful (or unsuccessful) when it comes to crossing over into another genre?