Let’s be honest, shall we? If you came across this description of a soon-to-be-released book, would you want to read it?
When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…. Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
(book description lifted from the nice people at Amazon)
Sounds okay, but it wouldn’t rise to the top of my to-read pile (which I swear grows a few inches taller every time my back is turned, but that’s another story for another day). I tend toward the dark, the weird, the magical or mysterious, the slightly off-kilter in my must-reads. A story about small town politics? Well, maybe when I have nothing else to do… and when I’ve run out of Stephen King or Christopher Moore to fill in the slow moments.
BUT… and it’s a very big but (ha! I can hear my 9-year-old saying, “Mom! You just said ‘big butt’!”), this is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill tale of life in a charming English town. This is The Casual Vacancy, the debut adult novel by J.K. Rowling! Changes the picture a bit, doesn’t it?
According to Amazon’s stats as of today, The Casual Vacancy is currently #223 in their sales ranking, with still two months to go until its release date in late September. If this wasn’t a book by J. K. Rowling but rather by some unknown author, I’d imagine that the preorders on this would be non-existent. BUT (again with the big but…) this is the queen of bestsellers, the creator of Harry Potter! Who doesn’t want to read whatever she writes next?
I can only imagine the conversations between J. K. and her agent and her publisher. “Well done, you’ve finished the most successful book series in the history of the universe! What are you going to do next?” “Ummmm….”
I suppose it would have been easiest for J. K. to coast for a bit, write more tales set in the Potter ‘verse. C’mon, don’t we all want to know more about Neville? That Teddy Lupin seems like an interesting guy, right?
And too, she doesn’t actually have to do anything for the rest of her life, and she’ll still be more or less a gazillionaire forever, thanks to Harry.
It takes a certain amount of courage to go off in a new direction, to say to her legions of fans, “Hey, I know you lot want more wizards and magic — but I’m over it. Moving on, here!” And no matter what she writes next, there’s certain to be an intense amount of scrutiny and incredibly high expectations. The schadenfreude crowd would love, I’m sure, to be able to say, “Oh, J. K. Rowling? One-trick pony. She has nothing else to say after Harry Potter.”
So, onward to The Casual Vacancy. I wonder — is this a story she was dying to tell? Did she have a sudden burst of inspiration, see whole new worlds opening up before her? Has she always wanted to explore small-town English politics?
Or, perhaps, is The Casual Vacancy just a first tentative step toward moving into a post-Harry Potter writing life? Get that first book out there, like throwing a bone to a hungry dog, let all the people salivating over her next work see that she’s capable of writing something outside the HP world. If The Casual Vacancy is released to big fanfare and the world reads it, shrugs its collective shoulders, and realizes that J. K. Rowling is a novelist who will be around for a while writing lots of different books, then maybe the pressure will be off.
Who knows, maybe it’s the next book after The Casual Vacancy that ‘s the one that she’s just dying to write, and The Casual Vacancy is just a test balloon to get us all to back off and ease up on the expectations.
As for me, I’m sure I will read it. I love Harry Potter, world without end, and I’m willing to give J. K. the benefit the doubt, even if it means reading a book about Muggles.
Although it would definitely be cool if a dementor or two showed up in Pagford.
What about you? Are you planning to read The Casual Vacancy?