As an avid Harry Potter fan I was surprised when I learnt that J.K. Rowling had decided to turn her back on the world of wizards and instead pen a book for adults. I was increasingly surprised to learn we were leaving the potions and dragons behind for a case of a casual vacancy and a novel concerning a parish council election in a small West Country town. However I dutifully sat down to read and was happily surprised
In all, the Casual Vacancy is a solid and traditional book about a little town called Pagford. Resembling almost a study of life in a village town we learn about each of the characters as their stories weave and interlock unearthing nuggets of gossip concerning each other. However under the veneer of the hanging baskets and beautiful war memorial there is deceit growing with the cracks showing to reveal arrogance, condescension, sexual frustration, racism and a punch of snobbery. The plot however begins with the death of the hero. Barry Fairbrother falls on his knees and dies of a brain aneurysm in the car park of the local golf club. His death creates a “casual vacancy” on the local parish council and there are a number of people that are very happy to take his place. However the parish council have other plans and want to recruit one of their own, led by Howard Mollison the grotesquely obese delicatessen owner.
The main problem is that Barry was opposing the parish council on their plan to reassign the fields, a rundown estate to the council of Yarvil, a nearby city. This allows them to reassign the responsibility of addicts, and benefit claimers to Yarvil whilst keeping Pagford its beautiful unblemished self. The election continues until there is a post on the Parish website from the ghost of Barry Fairbrother causing unease and shock. The plot rumbles along and we meet a surprisingly large number of characters with different snags and hitches, whilst characters jostle and bustle to fill the parish council seat.
The plot although busy definitely has an underlying sense of organisation and a strong social message of a sense of responsibility to others and the devastating effects that will happen if we live to scheme and undermine other people. I don’t want to give much away about the characters because you need to discover and gain thought about them yourself but they are well presented and we can tell the definite change in social class and status. I loved the honesty of the life of Krystal and her mother Terri a drug addict that is unsuccessful trying to kick the habit and look after her little boy Robbie. The situation they are in whilst the people of Pagford try desperately to get them off their hands is extremely sobering and hurtful.The plot although sometimes predictable staggers along to a climax that left me shocked but not disappointed. I never lie, so I won’t here; it’s not a spell binding masterpiece that will one day become a classic, but it’s not bad at all, seeing the building of the characters and seeing how their lack of empathy and their obsessive attitudes to filling the Parish Council leads to the final climax of the dramatic ending.