The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling.
Together they rattled through the conventional aspects of the tragedy: the widow ("she'll be lost, she lived for Barry"); the children ("four teenagers, what a burden without a father"); the relative youth of the dead man ("he wasn't much older than Miles, was he?"); and then, at least, they reached the real point of departure, beside which all else was aimless meandering.
"What'll happen?" Maureen asked Howard greedily.
"Ah," said Howard. "Well, now. That's the question, isn't it? We've got ourselves a casual vacancy, Mo, and it could make all the difference."
"We've got a...?" asked Maureen, frightened that she might have missed something crucial.
"Casual vacancy," repeated Howard. "What you call it when a council seat becomes vacant through a death. Proper term," he said pedagogically.
So let's get something straight first off: this book is not Harry Potter by any means. It's Rowling's first book for adults, and you can definitely tell it's for adults: it has a lot of swearing, sex, and other debauchery in it. That being said, Rowling is an exceptional storyteller, and this book is no different, though it clocks in at a rather lengthy 503 pages.
If you've ever lived in a small town, you will relate to the people of Pagford, England, who are constantly in each other's business. When Barry Fairbrother dies, a "casual vacancy" on the town's parish council is created, and a few Pagford citizens take it upon themselves to run for his seat. These people all know each other, and their teenagers know each other, some of whom who hate their parents ... and that's when things start to get interesting.
When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is in shock.
Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled marked square and an ancient abbey, but what lies beneath the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils ... Pagford is not what it first seems.
And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
There's also the only Indian family in town, Dr. Parminder Jawanda and her family, including Sukvinder who is constantly made fun of by Fats for having hair over her lip. Sukvinder is friends with Gaia, who is currently being adored by afar by Andrew Price, son of Simon Price, who also wants to run for council ... that is, until Andrew hacks into the council website and writes a piece about Simon's various indiscretions.
And we can't forget 16-year-old Krystal Weedon, whose mother Terri is a drug addict; Krystal inevitably ends up taking care of Robbie, her toddler brother, when Terri is unable to do so. Fats strikes up a relationship with Krystal, but one day when they aren't paying attention, something awful happens to Robbie.
What I liked most about this novel was that all of the stories were intertwined, and at the end of the book we notice this more than ever. The actions of the teenagers and of the people running for council, as well as their families, all end up combusting in the end for a rather interesting finale, and a "hot topic" that everyone in the town has an opinion on ends up causing strife throughout as well.
4 stars out of 5.
*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.