Question: How do you follow something like the Harry Potter Saga?
Answer: You don’t. It’s impossible.
Arthur Conan Doyle scored a huge success with his most famous creation Sherlock Holmes but was continuously frustrated when his other achievements were largely ignored. Enid Blyton’s adult fiction never achieved the widespread success and popularity of her books for children. Douglas Adams was constantly dogged by the question “when are you going to write another Hitchhiker book?” Helen Fielding has yet to escape the shadow of Bridget Jones.
And J.K. Rowling will always be best known for Harry Potter. But with her first post-Potter novel, she certainly does an admirable job of making a name for herself in the field of adult non-fantasy fiction.
The Casual Vacancy centres on Pagford, a town awash with secrets which are all brought to the surface by a particularly ugly parish council election precipitated by the untimely death of thoroughly decent member, Barry Fairbrother. Although set up almost as a 21st century Barchester Towers, surprisingly little attention is focused on the election itself with Rowling devoting most of her attention to the town’s cast of sometimes unlovely characters.
Such issues as internet porn, class warfare, casual racism, rape, drug abuse, domestic violence and civic corruption are all handled deftly by Rowling. No one who has read the Harry Potter books will be surprised to see Rowling can juggle a labyrinthine story-line and a large range of characters. What is more surprising is that with both this and her more recent crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling (written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith) she has entered the world of adult fiction with such confidence and success.