Pagford appears to be an idyllic English town, but there is a divide amongst the people. One side of the town, known as the Fields, is poor, living in streets that have long been neglected. When a prominent member of the community, Barry Fairbrother, dies unexpectedly, these issues are brought to light. Fairbrother worked hard to provide the poorer members of the town the help they needed. Some people want to continue the work Fairbrother has been doing, while others wish to disassociate the town of Pagford with the Fields altogether.
Fairbrother’s death also opens up a seat on the parish council, which many people in the town wish to obtain. The lives of the townsfolk are intertwined during the race for the parish council seat that leads to a tragic climax that will shake the entire town.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that Rowling recently released a book under a pseudonym. After the tremendous success she had with Harry Potter, any books she wrote after that would automatically be looked at differently. When you are associated with something so iconic and popular, it’s hard to move away from that and do something else. (No matter how hard he tries I don’t think anyone will ever be able to fully look at Daniel Radcliffe and not she Harry.)
I think a lot of times this book was too harshly judged because it wasn’t Harry Potter. I’ll admit that I only picked this book up because of who the author was. A book about the race for a seat at the parish council in a small English town normally would not interest me. But because the author was Rowling, I wanted to check it out.
The book starts off a bit slow. It took me awhile to complete the first 100 pages. But once it starts to pick it, it’s great. Rowling writes fantastic, complex characters. They are flawed and they are real. The death of Barry Fairbrother is what starts this book off and the race to fill his empty seat is what the book is centered around, but in the end the book is simply about life and people. The relationship they have with themselves and the relationship they have with each other.
After finishing this book I came to the conclusion that J.K. Rowling is actually a witch and does not have very high feelings about muggles. The Harry Potter series had no good examples of muggles. The Dursleys were horrendous. The only hope for some kind of muggle representation could have come from Hermione’s parents but they were never really shown. And now there is The Casual Vacancy. This book does not paint a pretty picture of us muggles. In fact it’s rather depressing.
Fairbrother is really the only character who comes out of this book unscathed. And that’s only because he dies within the first few pages and we never get to see his flaws. The rest of the characters are not so lucky. The story is told through multiple narratives so we get inside the heads of different members of the town. We get to see just how self-absorbed and petty many people can be.
“But who could bear to know which stars were already dead, she thought, blinking up at the night sky, could anybody stand to know that they all were?” – Tessa
Final Verdict: This book does start off a little slow but once it started to pick up, I really enjoyed it. I gave it a 4-star rating on Goodreads.