J.K. Rowling's first literary novel for adults is a surprising triumph

Illustration by Sam Kerr for TIME

I don't think it's especially ungallant of me to have doubted J.K. Rowling. Like a hundred million or so other people, I have a genuine love for Harry Potter, but I wanted to be realistic: a lot of young-adult authors have tried their hands at literary fiction, and unless my literary sabermetrics are off, not a lot of them have succeeded. Not even Roald Dahl could switch-hit.

But when I read Rowling's The Casual Vacancy, I was surprised not only by how good it was but also by the way in which it was good. I suppose I'd expected a kind...

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