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.
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.
by Penelope Fitzgerald
A kind-hearted widow risks everything to open a bookshop in a town that doesn’t want a bookshop.
by Jane Austen
Emma Woodhouse attempts to orchestrate romance in a small English town.
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
Property developer Sir Giles Lynchwood wants a new motorway built but opposition grows.
by George Eliot
Art, religion, science, politics, society, relationships – the best ever novel on provincial life?
by Angela Thirkell
Misunderstandings and mishaps galore in a fictional county.
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
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
Set in the 1950s the story of the Harlencys who leave their London pub for rural Kent.
by Winifred Holtby
Lives, loves and sorrows in Yorkshire of headmistress Sarah Burton and many others.
by Elizabeth Gaskell
A comic portrait of a Victorian village and its genteel inhabitants.
by E.F. Benson
Mrs Ames revels in her position of superiority in the the merry-go-round of dinner parties.
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.
by Frank Baker
An 83-year-old woman is invented and causes havoc in a sleepy Buckinghamshire town.
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
The tale of identical twin brothers who toil on the family farm in Wales.
by Graham Swift
Murder, incest, guilt and insanity in the Fens of East Anglia – the story spans 240 years.
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
The fictional journal of an upper-middle class woman in a Devon village during the 1930s.
One Fine Day
by Mollie Panter-Downes
First published in 1947, this subtle novel presents a memorable portrait of post-war England.
by Charlie Williams
A small-town bouncer’s courage is questioned and he decides to prove himself.