J.K. Rowling's 'The Casual Vacancy' Makes Political Waves in Britain

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LONDON -- J.K. Rowling's much-anticipated The Casual Vacancy, her first adult book following the hugely successful Harry Potter series, is hitting stores here Thursday, and it is making not only literary but also political waves.

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With some reviewers focusing on political undertones, the novel is drawing ire from some conservatives who argue it is a liberal attack on conservatives.

The Daily Mail tabloid's Jan Moir criticized Casual Vacancy, suggesting it won't live up to its hype. "Not unless you want to have more than 500 pages of relentless socialist manifesto masquerading as literature crammed down your throat," she wrote. "Not unless you happen to be, like J.K. Rowling herself, the kind of blinkered, Left-leaning demagogue quick to lambast what she perceives to be risible middle-class values, while failing to see that her own lush thickets of dearly held emotions and prejudices are riddled with the same narrow-mindedness she is so quick to detect in others."

The conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph gave the book a positive review but also suggested that Britain's conservative prime minister might not want to read it.

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"I don’t know whether David Cameron is a fan of Harry Potter, but he’d be advised to give The Casual Vacancy a body swerve, as he is unlikely to enjoy seeing his notion of the 'Big Society' being so savagely eviscerated," wrote its critic Christopher Brookmyre. "It reveals in unflinching detail the fractures beneath the surface of modern Britain."

He also suggested that one key character in the book "represents liberal aspirations towards a fairer and more integrated society, whereby we don’t lecture the disadvantaged about pulling themselves up by their bootstraps -- instead we have to wade in to help in ways that may be messy, unsatisfying and barely effective, but without which we abandon hope."

The Guardian, though, highlighted that some of the themes of the new Rowling novel will be familiar to Potter fans used to reading about the wizard series' Dursley family that Harry Potter lives with during his summer holidays.

In an "obvious parallel with the Potter books, The Casual Vacancy is animated by a strong dislike of mean, unsympathetic, small-minded folk," the paper wrote. The inhabitants of the imagined town of Pagford, where the novel is set, "are mostly hateful Muggles, more realistic versions of the Dursleys, the awful family who keep poor Harry stashed in the cupboard under the stairs."

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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