The Casual Vacancy begins very abruptly with the death of Barry Fairbrother, a parish councilman in the small English town of Pagford. Pagford neighbors the Fields council estate. The privileged townspeople of Pagford see the Fields residents as drug-addicted parasites, and the Fields residents see the townspeople as elitist snobs. Barry, who grew up in the Fields worked to help those in the Fields, in particular one teenaged girl: Krystal Weedon. Krystal is a stereotypical juvenile delinquent with a drug-addicted mother, until Barry convinces her to participate on the school’s rowing team. The rowing team gave her a touch of confidence; yet, with the death of Barry she’s right back where she started.
The book follows Krystal and numerous other residents of the Fields and Pagford. In Pagford Howard Mollison, deli-owner and council president, schemes to fill Barry’s council seat with his own son. His daughter in-law Samantha is bored with small town life and opposes her father-in-law’s scheme. Colin Wall is a deputy head teacher who wants to carry on Barry’s legacy, and then there is Simon Price, a truly despicable character who runs for the seat hoping to profit from political graft.
The candidates all get a rude awakening when the “ghost of Barry Fairbrother” appears on the council’s website revealing one of Simon’s secrets. In a gossipy bitchy little town like Pagford, suspicions and accusations fly.
The children of these characters are all teenagers attending the same school. They too are cruel and petty. Suhkvinder Jawanda who is bullied by Fats Wall. Andrew Price is Fats’ best friend, who doesn’t understand Fats’ cruelty. Andrew Price in turn has a crush on Gaia, the new girl in town, whose mother dragged her to Pagford as part of her own romantic pursuit. Krystal is in the center of all this, protecting her younger brother Robby from their mother and from the social service workers as best she can.
Pagford is a small town inhabited by a lot of small-minded people. I found it impossible to empathize with any of the adults, but felt drawn to Krystal, Andrew and Suhkvinder. The plot started out a bit slowly, but picked up somewhere in the middle. Overall, I found this to be a good read.