Rowling’s adult novel full of cruelty and despair

Allison Pearson

“LUCKY you,” said a friend, “getting to read JK’s book early. What do you think?”

Even if I could have told her – and I could not because my tongue had been silenced after a powerful spell cast by lawyers – what would I have replied?

That I had just read a passage written by the world’s favourite children’s author in which a teenager is raped by her mother’s heroin dealer, a man who may well be the father of the girl’s own three-year-old step-brother – although it’s hard to know for sure when the mum concerned is a prostitute.

So much for Hermione Granger.

The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling’s first adult novel, is sometimes funny, often startlingly well observed, and full of cruelty and despair.

One teenager cuts herself to relieve her misery, another commits suicide.

Online pornography is described in gynaecological detail.

The setting is the fictional West Country village of Pagford, and the adult characters seem to be entered in a previously unknown category at the village fete: most gratuitously unpleasant human being.

It feels as if the author has unleashed all the swearing, sex and vitriol that were off-limits to her since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997.

As for the ending, it is so howlingly bleak it makes Thomas Hardy look like PG Wodehouse.

So great and joyous were Rowling’s powers of enchantment with Harry Potter that she summoned a whole generation – a generation that had been in danger of being lost to the written word – to the magic circle of books.

So why has she decided to break the spell, bewildering fans with this uneven, often harrowing book? Some will find it brave and groundbreaking, but it’s bound to be a shock to others, who loved her old stamping-ground with its dormitories and its feasts. — The Daily Telegraph

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