The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
The Casual Vacancy
J.K. Rowling
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She’s back. J.K. Rowling’s new novel, The Casual Vacancy, has finally been published but Harry Potter and Hogwarts are nowhere to be seen. Rowling’s first novel for adults takes on the intricacies of English provincial life.

Pagford is the quintessential English small town with a cobbled market square and historic abbey, but life is anything but peaceful behind the hanging baskets and manicured lawns. An empty seat appears on the town council when Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly and the subsequent election sparks conflict and turmoil (although there probably isn’t a full-scale battle involving deadly spells). Rowling has promised her devoted readers a novel of black comedy. Will she deliver without the magic of wizardry?

English provincial life has been a rich theme for writers over the centuries and Rowling comes from just such a background, having been born in Yate in Gloucestershire and growing up in the villages of Winterbourne and Tutshill.

Thomas Hardy is probably the finest purveyor of English provincial strife (although Anthony Trollope fans may disagree) but Dorset’s famous son doesn’t offer many laughs. Tom Sharpe does on the other hand – his 1975 novel, Blott on the Landscape, remains an excellent satire on Englishness away from the big city.

Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford is another excellent read. The book has enjoyed a revival in interest since the BBC TV adaptation in 2008. It was originally a trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels set in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Although more rural than small-town, Cold Comfort Farm, published in 1932, is a parody of the likes of Hardy and should be on everyone’s reading list.

In many of these books, we see small places having big battles with ample helpings of the black comedy that comes so easy to British writers. Others writers take a more subtle approach and look for the flaws of ordinary people.

 

25 Novels of British Provincial Life

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Black Swan Green
by David Mitchell

Jason is 13 and lives in a dull village in a dull county. This novel follows 13 months of his life.
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
by Helen Simonson

Edgecombe St. Mary is a packed with characters including Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired).
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Bookshop
by Penelope Fitzgerald

A kind-hearted widow risks everything to open a bookshop in a town that doesn’t want a bookshop.
Emma by Jane Austen
Emma
by Jane Austen

Emma Woodhouse attempts to orchestrate romance in a small English town.
The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie
The Moving Finger
by Agatha Christie

Lymstock seems quiet but then the poison-pen letters start arriving. Miss Marple to the rescue.
Blott on the Landscape by Tom Sharpe
Blott on the Landscape
by Tom Sharpe

Property developer Sir Giles Lynchwood wants a new motorway built but opposition grows.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Middlemarch
by George Eliot

Art, religion, science, politics, society, relationships – the best ever novel on provincial life?
The Brandons by Angela Thirkell
The Brandons
by Angela Thirkell

Misunderstandings and mishaps galore in a fictional county.
A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym
A Few Green Leaves
by Barbara Pym

An anthropologist moves to a quiet Oxfordshire village to write a book about the inhabitants.
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
The Mayor of Casterbridge
by Thomas Hardy

Never read it? A must-read for any man who has sold his wife & baby daughter at a country fair.
The Orchard on Fire by Shena Mackay
The Orchard on Fire
by Shena Mackay

Set in the 1950s the story of the Harlencys who leave their London pub for rural Kent.
South Riding by Winifred Holtby
South Riding
by Winifred Holtby

Lives, loves and sorrows in Yorkshire of headmistress Sarah Burton and many others.
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Cranford
by Elizabeth Gaskell

A comic portrait of a Victorian village and its genteel inhabitants.
Mrs. Ames by E.F. Benson
Mrs. Ames
by E.F. Benson

Mrs Ames revels in her position of superiority in the the merry-go-round of dinner parties.
Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
Lark Rise to Candleford
by Flora Thompson

Based on Thompson’s own experiences of childhood and youth.
Mrs. Tim of the Regiment by D. E. Stevenson
Mrs. Tim of the Regiment
by D. E. Stevenson

Written as a diary of an army officer’s wife in the 1930s, who moves to Scotland.
Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
Miss Hargreaves
by Frank Baker

An 83-year-old woman is invented and causes havoc in a sleepy Buckinghamshire town.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Cold Comfort Farm
by Stella Gibbons

Flora Poste, orphaned at 20, goes to live with her relatives who live in utter chaos.
On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin
On the Black Hill
by Bruce Chatwin

The tale of identical twin brothers who toil on the family farm in Wales.
Scenes from Provincial Life by William Cooper
Scenes from Provincial Life
by William Cooper

Set in 1939, this novel tackles the life of a grammar school physics teacher.
Waterland by Graham Swift
Waterland
by Graham Swift

Murder, incest, guilt and insanity in the Fens of East Anglia – the story spans 240 years.
Saville by David Story
Saville
by David Story

Colin Saville grows up in a Yorkshire mining village against the background of war and industrialization.
Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
Diary of a Provincial Lady
by E.M. Delafield

The fictional journal of an upper-middle class woman in a Devon village during the 1930s.
One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes
One Fine Day
by Mollie Panter-Downes

First published in 1947, this subtle novel presents a memorable portrait of post-war England.
Deadfolk by Charlie Williams
Deadfolk
by Charlie Williams

A small-town bouncer’s courage is questioned and he decides to prove himself.

What's your favorite book about provincial life?


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