Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that JK Rowling’s just brought out a novel, The Casual Vacancy. On the face of it, it’s as different from Harry Potter as night from day. It’s a slice of gritty realism, exploring the impact of the class wars on a pretty English town. But scratch that surface and you’ll find a morality tale, a clash of good versus evil featuring a cast of Dickensian proportions. Just like Harry Potter.
JK Rowling is part of a tradition of storytelling that has been somewhat shelved in recent times, with the constant need for publishers to classify books according to genres and the desire for authors to display their literary prowess with artful prose. We have always loved stories and JK Rowling has managed to tap into that ancient storytelling urge, while bringing old-fashioned storytelling values into the modern age. Even the title, The Casual Vacancy, has a retro feel.
Here are a few of the ingredients of her storytelling magic.
1, Morality Tales
In Writing for Grownups, the BBC interview that was held this week, JK Rowling said she couldn’t understand why the whole world wasn’t obsessed with morality. She uses her characters to explore what motivates characters to do good or bad. Her characters aren’t just black and white stick figures; they are a complex blend of vice and virtue. But as in the best fairy stories, good always triumphs.
2. Large Cast of Characters
Like Dickens, Rowling’s tales are populated with a large cast of characters, representing every shade of the social spectrum. Their antics are presented by a God-like narrator who can see around corners. This narrative technique can be slightly distancing; you never quite feel you get inside the heads of characters. That’s probably why it’s become less popular. But ultimately, in Rowling’s stories, there is a central character you can get your teeth into.
3. Plot Driven Narrative
In the quest to create compelling characters and convey an important message, authors these days often forget about the value of just telling a straightforward story. A story that hurtles along at a crackling pace and carries you with it until you come back to earth. That’s what Harry Potter was and The Casual Vacancy promises something similar.
I have to confess I’m cheering at the release of The Casual Vacancy. As I said previously, the realistic novel is slowly regaining popularity. The release of The Casual Vacancy is likely to cement that popularity. After a long period of doubt, readers who enjoy big-hearted stories about people like us will be rewarded.