Ian Parker’s new profile of J.K. Rowling in the New Yorker is—with the exception of a weird and utterly egregious comment on her makeup—a fascinating ramble through literary analysis of the Harry Potter books, British press law, the extent to which Rowling may have exaggerated her own poverty, and the touchiness of celebrities who want to be left alone. It’s also one of the first hints we have at the core conflicts in Rowling’s upcoming first novel aimed primarily at adult readers than young ones, The Casual Vacancy. And to a certain extent (and to my excitement), it sounds like the novel has some of the same themes as Parks and Recreation. In keeping with some of Harry Potter‘s concerns, the central conflict is a class one:
Barry’s civic influence is revealed by his departure, rather as George Bailey’s is in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The story is driven by the long-standing frustration that some of Barry’s disagreeable and right-wing neighbors have about the town’s administrative connection to the Fields, an area of public housing and poverty on the edge of a larger, nearby town. Historically, children from the Fields have had the right to attend primary school in Pagford, a place of flower baskets and other middle-class comforts, and the town has also supported a drug-treatment clinic that serves the neighborhood. In the absence of Barry’s righteous influence, the anti-Fields faction sees an opportunity to rid Pagford of this burden. This is a story of class warfare set amid semi-rural poverty, heroin addiction, and teen-age perplexity and sexuality.
It’s tonally that I see the potential for a Parks and Recreation parallel:
“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.”
We’re a ways from knowing whether The Casual Vacancy will be any good, though I’m looking forward to finding out. But learning more about the subject matter and tone has definitely more excited to give Rowling a shot.