The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling. Little, Brown, 503 pp. $35.
In her adult, non-wizarding debut, literary giant J.K. Rowling takes readers to the small parish town of Pagford, where a well-known member of the parish council, Barry Fairbrother, has just died.
Fairbrother, both loved and hated by his fellow parishoners, left behind a wife, Mary, and four children: Fergus, twins Niamh and Siobhan, and Declan.
He left behind friends in all areas of the town, most notably Colin “Cubby” Wall, the principal at the prestigious St. Thomas school, Parminder Jawanda, the foreign-born doctor married to the “most gorgeous man in Pagford” and the entire rowing team at the school, which he coached.
Left with a gaping hole in their seemingly well-oiled cog of a town, the other parishioners of Pagford must now find a way to go about their daily lives. Cubby must learn to handle his ill-behaving son, Stuart, or “Fats.”
Fats’ friend Andrew, or “Arf,” must stand up to his abusive father, Simon, and his passive mother, Ruth, while soliciting the attention of the beautiful Gaia Bawden.
Krystal Wheedon, a member of the rowing team and Fairbrother’s “pet” student, must find a way to fit into her school, and her town, while also caring for her young brother, Robbie, and her heroin-addicted mother, Terri.
Robbie’s social worker, Kay, must convince Terri to walk away from her vice and allow her addiction to heal, so that Robbie does not have to be taken away like her other children.
Kay’s boyfriend, Gavin, must either break up with Kay or learn to live with her and her daughter, Gaia.
And, in addition to the upheaval that a simple death brings to the town, there is the small matter of Fairbrother’s chair on the Pagford Parish Council, now identified as a “casual vacancy.”
The vacancy must be filled, and several parishioners have submitted their papers to be considered for election.
The problem is that this seat holds power. Fairbrother was fond of the Fields, the neighborhood between Pagford and Yarvil, the closest town. He grew up there. Others on the council, those who consider themselves full-blooded Pagford, want the Fields to be released to Yarvil, for them to deal with. It was, after all, their project.
Cubby Wall wants to continue his friend’s legacy; he feels it is his duty.
Miles Mollison, despite the current stress of his home life, feels that a seat on the Pagford Parish Council will help bolster his name and status. His wife, Samantha, does not approve.
Howard Mollison, Miles’ father, is already on the council, and is ready to help his son, in any way needed, to achieve this goal. His wife, Shirley, is all for it, as it will not only help her own name, but it will also further annoy her daughter-in-law.
Simon Price would also like to run, as long as his son, Andrew, can keep his mouth shut about what happens within the walls of his own, hard-earned home.
Whispers are the main form of communication in this small town, and news inevitably travels fast. But the damage is done, and the seat must be filled.