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It’s not ‘Harry Potter’

Carolyn Turek | Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Despite Michiko Kakutani’s scathing New York Times review of “The Casual Vacany” (which called the book “dull”), I was hooked from the first page. The introduction was so good, in fact, that I couldn’t help myself from reading passages out loud to my much-obliging roommate. 

As a disclaimer to my review, I must admit I have only had the chance to read the beginning pages. 

Kakutani, in her review, addresses many aspects of the novel she sees as problematic, including the lack of a magical tone, the instances of adult topics specifically not for children and the absence of character development and back stories. In each of these attacks on Rowling’s work, however, Kakutani refers to the differences between “The Casual Vacancy” and “Harry Potter.” In fact, Kakutani references “Harry Potter” in seven of her nine paragraphs. 

It is true “The Casual Vacancy” does not possess the magical aura of Harry’s world. It is also true that this book immediately adopts a tone more serious than any espoused in openings of the “Harry Potter” books. And it is inevitable readers will not connect with the new characters as readily as they did with those fleshed out in more than 4,000 pages of “Harry Potter” text. However, what critics and casual readers alike need to remember is that “The Casual Vacancy” is not “Harry Potter.”

It seems irresponsible and unfair for Kakutani to compare every element of this separate and singular work to Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. It’s akin to comparing siblings and their own personal proficiencies. How is it possible to make comparisons between books of different purpose and audience?  It should be the mark of a proficient reviewer to disconnect from previous works and judge the book solely on its own merit.

Rowling, as the most prolific writer of this century, deserves the freedom to write whatever pleases her, without the threat of comparison to past works. 

Despite the unfortunate power of The New York Times to influence opinions on today’s books, I am still as entranced by the opening lines of “The Casual Vacancy” as I was when I read the beautifully crafted opening lines of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” and upon finishing, hope to find some sort of magic lying within the pages of the proud work of a favorite author.