The Casual Vacancy

By J. K. Rowling

The Short Take:

The prosperous, picturesque English town of Pagford is no Hogwarts. It’s a hotbed of jealousy, discontent, and wars between young and old, rich and poor. In fact, it makesĀ Peyton Place look exceptionally calm and innocent. However, this messy tangle of unhappy individuals makes for one compelling and fascinating read.


While hardly any of the characters in this well-populated novel are likable, they are all largely understandable. The small lies they tell themselves to justify their behavior are familiar to us all. The same petty grievances and self-righteous smugness are found in every community on any given day.

Rowling has taken those everyday, small-time attitudes and behaviors and brought them to a roiling boil, all brought on by the unexpected death of one man. Subsequent actions have repercussions that reach far beyond their intentions. Small problems are built into mountains. At the same time, individuals facing an impassable mountain range of problems believe solutions are readily in hand.

There are quick moments of humor and wry observations to leaven the darker subjects of bullying, drug addiction, and family abuse. It’s not a joyful read, but it is an interesting one — with the proper amount of denouement.

A Little Plot:

The small town of Pagford is tidy and rather well-to-do. However, it is saddled with financial responsibility for the public housing of the Fields — a development totally at odds with what Pagford is to many on the local parish council.

Barry Fairbrother, who also sits on the council, rose to prominence from his impoverished Fields beginnings and is a strong proponent for giving Fields children the benefit of the better schools of Pagford. His sudden death leaves a council seat open — a casual vacancy. As the adults jockey to finally get rid of (or protect) the Fields, their children find this gives them opportunities to rain down revenge on the parents they despise.

It gets very, very complicated.

If you want to visit J. K. Rowling’s website, click here.

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