J. K. Rowling Interview with “The Guardian,” and a Preview of “Life After Harry Potter”
Sep 21, 2012
The Guardian has posted an extensive article and a nearly ten minute video of their interview with J. K. Rowling. The article reveals a great deal more about The Casual Vacancy than has so far been released, including Rowling’s inspiration for the book:
In a way, that’s what she is. Rowling has written seven Harry Potter books, and sold more than 450m copies, but her first novel for adults is unlike them in every respect ’ unless you count the location where the concept came to her. “Obviously I need to be in some form of vehicle to have a decent idea,” she laughs. Having dreamed up Potter on a train, “This time I was on a plane. And I thought: local election! And I just knew. I had that totally physical response you get to an idea that you know will work. It’s a rush of adrenaline, it’s chemical. I had it with Harry Potter and I had it with this. So that’s how I know.”
The plot for The Casual Vacancy is gone into a bit, so please be advised of spoilers:
The story opens with the death of a parish councillor in the pretty West Country village of Pagford. Barry had grown up on a nearby council estate, the Fields, a squalid rural ghetto with which the more pious middle classes of Pagford have long lost patience. If they can fill his seat with one more councillor sympathetic to their disgust, they’ll secure a majority vote to reassign responsibility for the Fields to a neighbouring council, and be rid of the wretched place for good.
The pompous chairman assumes the seat will go to his son, a solicitor. Pitted against him are a bitterly cold GP and a deputy headmaster crippled by irreconcilable ambivalence towards his son, an unnervingly self-possessed adolescent whose subversion takes the unusual but highly effective form of telling the truth. His preoccupation with “authenticity” develops into a fascination with the Fields and its most notorious family, the Weedons.
Terri Weedon is a prostitute, junkie and lifelong casualty of chilling abuse, struggling to stay clean to stop social services taking her three-year-old son, Robbie, into care. But methadone is a precarious substitute for heroin, and most of what passes for mothering falls to her teenage daughter, Krystal. Spirited and volatile, Krystal has known only one adult ally in her life ’ Barry ’ and his sudden death casts her dangerously adrift. When anonymous messages begin appearing on the parish council website, exposing villagers’ secrets, Pagford unravels into a panic of paranoia, rage and tragedy.
Pagford will be appallingly recognisable to anyone who has ever lived in a West Country village, but its clever comedy can also be read as a parable about national politics. “I’m interested in that drive, that rush to judgment, that is so prevalent in our society,” Rowling says. “We all know that pleasurable rush that comes from condemning, and in the short term it’s quite a satisfying thing to do, isn’t it?” But it requires obliviousness to the horrors suffered by a family such as the Weedons, and the book satirises the ignorance of elites who assume to know what’s best for everyone else.