In the opening pages of The Casual Vacancy we meet Barry Fairbrother, the head of the Parish Council of a small, quiet town called Pagford who, on his anniversary night, goes out with his wife to dinner.
He then drops dead in the parking lot of the restaurant.
The death of Mr. Fairbrother leaves a Casual Vacancy, a term used to define an empty seat of the chairman on a parish council. As the news spreads quickly overnight through the town of Pagford that Barry Fairbrother has died, the town becomes distraught. Not only is everyone scrambling to set up an election to fill the vacancy Barry has left, but the families that the story focuses on attempt to fill the “Casual Vacancy” in their lives that Barry’s death has caused. Whether it is food, alcohol, drugs, or even sex, the quiet town does not seem to be as quiet as once believed.
When the election is near the candidates to fill Barry’s position have to decide if they will carry on Barry’s legacy by continuing to run the town as Barry had or go in a new direction. One topic that is the main point in the election is whether to keep a small community of homes called The Fields, a poor neighborhood outside of Pagford, within the perimeter of Pagfords’ boundary or leave it to Yarvil, the town over the hill from Pagford. Barry had wanted to keep The Fields belonging to Pagford, along with wanting to keep the drug addiction clinic open. However, with Barry gone, both of his priorities could be tossed to the side and forgotten about by the next chairman.
As the election comes to a close, Pagford is as strained as ever and is almost to its breaking point. Everyone is at war with each other. Secrets have been revealed, information has been leaked, and Pagford is in chaos.
This novel is filled with characters you will love, hate, and even love to hate. It does not contain an extensive plot as Harry Potter did. It is very much a character driven story. Instead of the plot moving the story, the characters move the story, and in some cases, in the most unpredictable ways. The Casual Vacancy has a dark humor to it as well. At some portions I was very struck by how serious some situations were but then looked back on the scene and chuckled to myself (In particular the dinner scene at Samantha and Miles’s home about midway through the book).
By the end chapters, J.K. Rowling makes it clear that she is a truly remarkable writer and continues to blow the reader away with the realness of her story telling. A dark but raw side of Rowling shows, which in this case, is a good thing. She will have your emotions soaring to heights unimaginable, but also dropping them as low as they might have ever been. It’s thought provoking and intelligent. Rowling tells us to stop and take a good hard look at our society, our communities, our families, and most importantly, ourselves.
When I finished The Casual Vacancy I immediately thought “Where am I going to put this?” Should it really be on the same shelf as the Harry Potter series? Is it worthy to sit next to the book series that changed millions of lives? If you are asking yourself the same question, then the answer I have for you is yes. Yes, it deserves to be displayed with dignity and nobility. It may not be Harry Potter, but it deals with the same theme. How death is always near and although it might not always seem present, love always wins.
The Casual Vacancy is an instant classic. Whether it is in the small town of Pagford, or the Wizarding World, J.K. Rowling comes out on top.
Editor’s note: See Hypable’s review of The Casual Vacancy.