When you are the author of one of the most successful children's fiction series of all time, deciding how to follow up on your success can be quite a dilemma. Fortunately, J.K. Rowling decided to commit to a number of "firsts" when she tackled the challenge of writing something that did not have a central character named Harry Potter. The Casual Vacancy was published in 2012, and was Rowling's first novel since writing the Harry Potter series. It was also her first book aimed at adult readers.
The novel is divided into seven parts, and each of these parts is headed by a quotation from a definition in Charles Arnold Baker's book Local Council Administration. It is set in Britain's West Country, on what is sometimes colloquially known as the Cornish Riviera. Barry Fairbrother, a beloved councilman, has just died, leaving his council seat vacant. The story describes the various machinations and alliance-making that ensue as the election gets closer, and eventually a particularly vituperative and toxic online smear campaign against almost all of the candidates throws the election into disarray.
Rowling does not shy away from controversial subjects in the novel, dealing with, among things, rape, prostitution and drug addiction. The Casual Vacancy was so eagerly anticipated that it became the fastest selling novel in Britain since 2009 and over one million copies sold worldwide in the span of three weeks.
In 2014, the BBC and HBO collaborated on a television adaptation of the novel, which was broadcast as three one-hour screenings.
Although the novel was successful, and also critically acclaimed for its writing and plot development, Rowling did receive some criticism for changing the genre of her work; many felt that younger children might be encouraged to read the novel because she had written it despite the fact that its contents are completely unsuitable for children. Rowling's response was terse, expressing her irritation that it was in some way her responsibility to police what people allowed their children to read. Her intention prior to writing the fantasy series that was Harry Potter was always to write as the inspiration took her, and not be pigeonholed into only creating fantastical novels for children. Although this was her first foray into adult fiction using her own name, Rowling has also written crime fiction using the pen-name Robert Galbraith.