x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

New Rowling novel arrives with high drama

A few outtakes from Decca Aitkenhead's interview with JK Rowling.

JK Rowling's new novel arrives with the state secrecy of a royal birth. I was required to sign more legal documents than would typically be involved in buying a house before I was allowed to read The Casual Vacancy, under tight security in the London offices of Little, Brown.

Even the publishers had been forbidden to read it, and they relinquished the manuscript gingerly, reverently, as though handling a priceless Ming vase. Afterwards, I was instructed never to disclose the address of Rowling's Edinburgh office, where the interview was to have taken place before it was moved to a nearby hotel at the last minute.

The mere fact of the interview was deemed so newsworthy that Le Monde dispatched a reporter to investigate how it was secured. Its prospect assumed the mystique of an audience with Her Majesty - except, of course, that Rowling is famously much, much richer than the Queen.

Like so many British novels, The Casual Vacancy – about a little town left in shock after the unexpected death of a town council member – is inescapably about class.

"We're a phenomenally snobby society," Rowling tells me, "and it's such a rich seam. The middle class is so funny, it's the class I know best and it's the class where you find the most pretension."

The book is so funny I was halfway through before noticing that every character is, to a varying degree, monstrous.

Rowling says the endless rumours that The Casual Vacancy would be a crime thriller just made her laugh. "It was all started by Ian Rankin. Ian and I did once have a conversation in which he rightly said the Potter novels are, in the main, whodunits, so we were talking about that and that led to him telling everyone that I was writing a crime novel, which was never the case."

But she does admit that whodunits are her literary guilty pleasure: "I love a good Dorothy L Sayers. There's no shame in a Dorothy." She hasn't read Fifty Shades of Grey, "because I promised my editor I wouldn't". She doesn't look as if she feels she's missing out. "Not wildly," she agrees dryly.

See more from the interview with JK Rowling at our Scene&Heard blog, www.thenational.ae/scene-heard

Reprinted courtesy of Guardian News & Media