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The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

A casual vacancy occurs when a local council member is no longer able to perform his duties and a replacement needs to be chosen.

The village of Pagford and the city of Yarvil are only a few miles apart but Pagford residents would prefer to pretend that Yarvil doesn’t exist. This was made harder 60 years ago when the land of the large estate that sat between them was sold and a housing estate called The Fields was built. Today The Fields is home to many criminals and drug addicts. Some Pagford residents are horrified, especially since their community has to pay for some services in the estate and Fields children are eligible to go to Pagford schools. Now, finally, anti-Fields council members have the opportunity to force a vote on whether to let Yarvil take over responsibility for The Fields.

When Fields-born councilman Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly it opens a power vacuum in the council. An election is forced and it quickly becomes nasty. The secrets and fears of the residents of Pagford are exposed and it seems that no one is safe.

Let’s start with with everyone really wants to know. It is no Harry Potter. The book is ok but since people expect J.K. Rowling to produce blockbuster instant classics expectations for this book are high. This is a very gritty, depressing look at the evil of human nature and the lengths to which people will go to destroy the people who are standing in their way. The people who are ultimately hurt the most are the ones with the least power in the first place.

This is most definitely not a fun, light read. There are graphic descriptions of rape, drug abuse, child abuse and neglect, and sex. The Pagford residents are very parochial. They talk about people having a Yarvill accent, even though it is only a few miles away. They don’t go to Yarvill and talk about it like it is on the other side of the moon. Their lives are totally centered around their town and the little bit of power that they’ve accumulated there. As a former small town person and the former member of many committees, I recognize the “big fish in a small pond” mindset that makes some people latch on to fairly petty issues and hold on to them for dear life no matter what the consequences. This book starts with that mentality and takes it to extremes.