You’d be sick of wizards too, if you’d spent more than a decade talking about them. It’s no surprise that J.K. Rowling‘s first post-Harry Potter project, The Casual Vacancy, is as un-magical as it gets: not when you consider the critical and financial expectations in play. For the Potter critics who doubted Rowling’s ability beyond grandiose empire-building, it’ll be a prime opportunity to see her slip up in real time should the book not be up to snuff. On the other hand, she’s richer than the Queen, so what the hell do critics matter? But every author relishes the chance to let their inner muse shine, if only to quiet that pesky, self-doubting gremlin.
The Casual Vacancy is billed as a black comedy, telling the story of local politics gone wrong in a lazy English town. “When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock,” a synopsis reads. “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 parish 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?”
It’s a solid enough concept, at least on paper. When Rowling wasn’t busy inventing new magical creatures to turn into toys, there was always a gentle wryness lying at the center of the Potter books, which it seems she’ll get a chance to fully explore this time. But alas, because Potter‘s all we’ve ever known from her, there’s really no way that The Casual Vacancy will escape casual comparisons. “The real surprise is the plot detail – she never revealed this much in advance of the Harry Potter novels. We were all expecting some sort of crime or mystery novel, but she has, refreshingly, surprised us all,” said Jon Howells, a spokesman for book retailer Waterstones. More surprises would be nice, wouldn’t they? The Casual Vacancy will be released on September 27.