THE PUBLISHING SENSATION of the past few months was apparently J.K. Rowling’s first novel aimed specifically at adults. Having read The Casual Vacancy from cover to cover we are fairly confident in saying – in the words of Norman MacCaig – that ‘it was okay, as far as it went’. Had it been by any other author – we are also fairly confident in saying – its publication would have passed without buildings shaking and the earth moving. As it was, it was received with the kind of hysterical response which once attended the final installment of one of Dickens’s more mawkish serial novels.
If nothing else this was a triumph of modern marketing. How much it happened with Rowling’s blessing we know not. What we do know is that early copies of her novel were delivered by hand to reviewers while several journalists selected to interview the author had to read their copies in an empty office while vowing not to disclose a word of its contents before an agreed time and date. Unless one is a guest of Her Majesty this cannot be the most comfortable of circumstances in which to read a novel which stretches to 500 and more pages.