9 Comments

Casually Designed

I was, am, and indefinitely will be a Harry Potter fan. These stories were a huge part of my growing-up years; I read the first book when I was 11, the same age as Harry. I still love the characters and the world that Rowling created, and all of the awesome names she came up with for stuff (like Quidditch and Fizzing Whizbees). She is, in my opinion, an extremely clever writer.

Understandably, she has since decided to take her writing in a completely different direction, no doubt an effort to avoid unfair comparisons to her previous creation. Her next novel, The Casual Vacancy, is due out September 27, and will be a work of adult fiction without even a whiff of the fantastic, as far as I can gather.

But, how does one meet the unavoidably heightened expectations that follow the hype of such a massively popular series?

Earlier this month, Little, Brown (her publisher this time around) released the cover design for the new book. And…well. I guess if you’re Rowling, you deal with those expectations by putting out something that looks like this:

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Let’s be honest.
First reaction: Really?

After a second look: OK, but…what?! Really??

If I were ignorant of the author’s previous successes, I’d say this looks more like what you’d find on those rotating racks at the drugstore checkout than future bestseller material. It looks cheap. It’s arrogantly simple, as if to say that no matter how little effort goes into this book’s design, or how offensive to the eyes it is, people will STILL buy it. Which is probably true. I’m sure I’ll pick up a copy if for nothing more than curiosity’s sake.

For the record – I’m sure a lot of work actually did go into it. Shelf Awareness quoted freelance designer Jon Gray as saying that “it’s clear from the cover of The Casual Vacancy that the brief was: make it look as different from the Harry Potter series as possible.” I imagine this was true, and that many hours went into coming up with an idea that would do absolutely nothing to link it to her previous work. Apparently, that means a minimalist design with a painfully tacky yellow/red colour scheme and a jovial white scrawl of a title. And a stylized “i” in “ROWLiNG”.

Interestingly, the only indication of the book’s content is the prominent black “X”.  This probably was a strategic move, as it will keep future readers speculating and curious until the book’s release. It’s really not much to go on, though, and anyone who has glanced at a synopsis has already figured out that the story involves a vote. That, and the death of a parish council member. I probably am not doing my best to make the plot sound riveting, though it has been described as “darkly comic”, which sounds good. Right? I hope it is, in fact, more than just “good”. It’s frustrating to see any artist – musician, actor, author – get a free ride while they put out crap, all because their early work was so spectacular that we’ll buy anything with their name on it, regardless of quality. But, even more than that, she’s an author whose words have been with me for a long time, and whose writing I really care about. I do expect good things; very good things. I want to be able to genuinely say I am a Rowling fan, not just a Harry Potter fan.

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9 comments on “Casually Designed

  1. Is this going to be a series?

  2. Re this: “Understandably, she has since decided to take her writing in a completely different direction, no doubt an effort to avoid unfair comparisons to her previous creation.” To be fair, she’s wanted to write a mystery novel for ages (I remember reading about her talking about that back circa the 4th or 5th book). I really don’t think that it’s to avoid the pressure of expectations. I think she(/her publisher)’s just doing her best to be very clear to people that this isn’t a fantasy book and that readers shouldn’t expect it. Ugh, if I was working at Chapters still I’d be dreading this book release for all the explanations to disgruntled, clueless parents who buy this thinking it was a new HP and want to return it.

    In any case, I am cautiously optimistic about this book! I love the concept and I really do have faith in JKR. This is her make-or-break moment – “real” author or one-hit wonder? I’m excited to read it and I’m rooting for her.

    • Jackie – good point. I’m rereading what I wrote and it sounds more negative than intended…garrr. My main criticism isn’t of Rowling herself, but of the cover design. Not a fan. And I think what I should have emphasized instead of how her writing is different is how the designers are trying to distance the book’s image from anything Potter-related. Which is good; I just think the result is pretty lacklustre.
      I’m rooting for her too! HP became better as it went on; I’m hoping that’s evidence enough of her increasing capabilities. I think she’s a great candidate for a mystery novel. Only a couple months to wait and see.

  3. I think the cover is simple but I like it fine! Nothing special, but inoffensive and even kind of striking. Let’s be real, anything like the HP covers wouldn’t be appropriate for either the target demographic nor the genre. It’s kind of funny that you think it’s “arrogantly simple.” I don’t see it like that at all! I’m not sure they’d be so flippant about it (or at least I hope not). In my opinion this cover is clean, simple, and conveys the central theme (i.e. politics) and the ‘cheapness’ you mention reminds of like, pulp fiction covers or early 20th century … something… I dunno, it’s vaguely retro, and I like it.

    I don’t know if it’s just me (I’m not sure I can tell bad writing from good, just what I like or dislike), but I never had any issues with JKR’s writing even in “Philosopher’s Stone”. The books definitely became more complex as they went on, but her style felt really consistent to me. And basically all the HP books are mysteries so I definitely think she is quite capable!

    I’m getting more excited about “The Casual Vacancy” as I think about it! hahaha 🙂

    • I wouldn’t say either that her writing was lacking in the first few Potter stories; it was just simpler, as was completely age-appropriate for children’s books. As the series went on, the stories became more complex and detailed, following the ages of her characters and her growing-up readers – that’s what I mean by her “increasing capabilities” in writing increasingly complex, character-rich narratives. I think that’s one of the coolest things about the series, especially for us who read them as they were released – we literally got to grow up alongside our favourite characters, and the writing and depth of the stories grew to match our own maturity. So, really, she’s already shown her skills in writing for a vast spectrum of ages. I’m curious and excited to see how this stretches to adult lit!

  4. Yeah, totally gross cover (red and yellow? ew!), but I can’t wait for this book to come out!

  5. […] and sweets and shop names and textbook titles that I could mention too. I haven’t yet read Rowling’s new book, so I can only hope the names she chose are as perfect as those in Harry Potter. Seriously, I […]

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