As of 8 a.m. this morning, the most anticipated book of the year was available to read and review without the threat of walloping legal action. Hundreds of fans will be sneaking chapters on their loo-breaks. But has The Casual Vacancy cast a spell on critics?
In the Independent Boyd Tonkin notes that Rowling still seems most fluent writing about teenagers: she "can be long-winded and laborious in the clunkily satirical set-pieces" but "picks up passion, verve and even magic with Krystal and the other adolescents...All the social and hormonal turbulence that the later Potter volumes had to veil in the euphemisms of fantasy appear in plain sight here."
Also seeing Potter in the hedges was the New Yorker's Ian Parker: Rowling "leaves little space for the peripheral or the ambiguous; hidden secrets are labelled as hidden secrets, and events are easy to predict. We seem to watch people move around Pagford as if they were on Harry’s magical parchment map of Hogwarts."
Jan Moir of the Daily Mail smells communist propaganda: "can the Casual Vacany ever live up to the hype? On balance, I would have to say no. Not unless you want to have more than 500 pages of relentless socialist manifesto masquerading as literature crammed down your throat."
Better news for Rowling came from Christopher Brookmyre in The Telegraph: "One marvels at the skill with which Rowling weaves such vivid characters in and out of each other’s lives, rendering them so complex and viscerally believable that one finds oneself caring for the worst of them."