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:
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.