The New Yorker magazine has just released a lengthy profile and interview with J.K. Rowling where she talks about her upcoming novel, The Casual Vacancy. The article provides several new details on the themes and characters of the story, and describes the reporter’s experience of reading the book for the first time in the New York offices of Little, Brown.
About Rowling’s decision to publish this novel:
I asked her if publishing the new book made her feel exposed. “I thought I’d feel frightened at this point,” she said. “Not just because it’s been five years, and anything I wrote after Potter-anything-was going to receive a certain degree of attention that is not entirely welcome, if I’m honest. It’s not the place I’m happiest or most comfortable, shall we say. So, for the first few years of writing ‘The Casual Vacancy,’ I kept saying to myself, ‘You’re very lucky. You can pay your bills, you don’t have to publish it.’ And that was a very freeing thought, even though I knew bloody well, in my heart of hearts, that I was going to publish it. I knew that a writer generally writes to be read, unless you’re Salinger.”
After all the fretting-“Christ, you’re going to have to go out there again”-she discovered that she was calm. “I think I’ve spent so long with the book-it is what I want it to be,” she said. “You think, Well, I did the best I could where I was with what I had.” She laughed. “Which is a terrible paraphrase of a Theodore Roosevelt quote.”
The article then goes on to explain what we can expect from the story:
“I think there is a through-line,” Rowling said. “Mortality, morality, the two things that I obsess about.” “The Casual Vacancy” is not a whodunit but, rather, a rural comedy of manners that, having taken on state-of-the-nation social themes, builds into black melodrama. Its attention rotates among several Pagford households, in the Southwest of England: a gourmet-grocery owner and his wife; two doctors; a nurse married to a printer; a social worker. Most of the families include troubled teens….
“It’s been billed, slightly, as a black comedy, but to me it’s more of a comic tragedy,” she said. If the novel had precedents, “it would be sort of nineteenth-century: the anatomy and the analysis of a very small and closed society.” A local election was “a perfect way in,” she said. “It’s the smallest possible building block of democracy-this tiny atom on which everything rests.” One could say that national politics does not rest upon local politics, and that no modern British town is a closed society; some of Rowling’s characters may seem eccentric for the earnestness with which they regard a local election. She acknowledged that the scale of parish-council decision-making is “easy to laugh at” but said that “part of the point is that those decisions that are being made do dramatically affect people’s lives, up to life and death sometimes.”
Rowling also discussed how she came up with the title for the book:
She said, “In my head, the working title for a long time was ‘Responsible,’ because for me this is a book about responsibility. In the minor sense-how responsible we are for our own personal happiness, and where we find ourselves in life-but in the macro sense also, of course: how responsible we are for the poor, the disadvantaged, other people’s misery.” Two years in, she picked up the standard British handbook for local administrators. “I needed it to check certain abstruse points. And in there I came across the phrase ‘a casual vacancy.’ Meaning, when a seat falls vacant through death or scandal. And immediately I knew that that was the title. . . . I was dealing not only with responsibility but with a bunch of characters who all have these little vacancies in their lives, these emptinesses in their lives, that they’re all filling in various ways.”
She added, with some passion, “And it’s death! The casual vacancy, the casualness with which death comes down. You expect a fanfare, you expect some sort of pathos or grandeur to it. And, you know, the first big death I ever suffered was my mother’s, and it was that that was so shocking: just gone.”
You can read the full article here, but be warned that it includes a few spoilers from the book!
The Casual Vacancy will be released on September 27.
Thanks to The Leaky Cauldron for the tip!