The book opens with the death of Barry Fairbrother, Town Council leader and prime advocate for The Fields, an outlying cluster of run-down homes. Barry spent his early life in the Fields, an impoverished environment populated by the underemployed and squatters. Perhaps this inspired him to take an interest in Krystal Weedon, an outspoken and difficult teenager who lives there.
Krystal takes care of her younger brother, a toddler who suffers neglect from their drug addicted mother, Terri, who is about to lose custody of her children. Her life style exposes Krystal to a world of harm and nefarious contacts who store illicit substances in their home.
Barry's untimely death created an opening on the Town Council, a position of importance and respect. The story develops around the intense competition between candidates who've put their name into the ring as potential replacements. Contenders struggle with sudden family issues once they decide to run for the vacancy.
Photo by Daniel Ogren [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Some citizens want to separate the Fields out of their community parameters. If the motion carries, the Pagford district would lose the fiscal burden of supporting the addiction clinic on the borders between communities.The effect of this motion would remove Krystal's mother from the program and take away the only thing keeping their struggling family together in light of her addiction.
In a much different sense than in the Harry Potter books, the characters in The Casual Vacancy appear rather unremarkable at first glance until their personal struggles and issues emerge.
When several hopefuls put their name in the hat for the council vacancy, mysterious messages begin to appear on its website. The source of these revealing and embarrassing posts becomes a topic which sets town members into a frenzy of accusations and cover-up.
This release is, without a doubt, directed toward adults. She describes the story as "comic drama" but it may seem to be of a much darker nature to those familiar with her Harry Potter characters. In this novel, she continues to provide characterizations intertwined with intrigue, mystery and a heavy dose of reality woven cleverly into the story.
Her characters demonstrate Ms. Rowling's superb talent of the written word to reveal both the inner strength and common foibles of everyday people. None possess any magic wands in this too-close for comfort realistic story set in a small town in the United Kingdom.
Rich characterization and no-nonsense reality thrive in this story which deals with the difficult issues of teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug abuse, self mutilation, spousal cruelty, marital infidelity and budding relationships and spares no ears from the harsh language that rises to these occasions.
It took me longer to relate to the characters that populate the town of Pagford, keeping track of their complicated web of sibling rivalry, friendships, teen angst and adult behavior, than it did with the Potter books. Yet once I passed that invisible line of concern for their outcome, the story became an engrossing tale that pushed me forward page by page to its ultimate climax.
The most surprising element of this novel was the adult nature of the interactions of her characters, including strong use of language and adult situations that involve teen drug use, drinking and sex, Internet hacking, child neglect, infidelity and abject poverty. Their ongoing squabbles between family members, schoolmates and citizens culminates into a disaster which unifies them in a bizarre and unexpected fashion.
A bit like the seventh book of Ms. Rowling's Harry Potter series, the end of the book brought a small bereavement for the loss of certain characters, through whose struggles and inner conflicts the story is made real, representing a slice of life through which the reader can choose to empathize or in some way relate to their difficult journey.
Although I admit to being taken aback by the nature of the book, adult fans of J.K. Rowling's intuitive writing style will not be disappointed with The Casual Vacancy.