I have finished the 51st book for the book challenge. It was The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling.
This the first adult novel by the author of the Harry Potter books for youth. It is set in the fictional small town of Pagford, town in the west of England about 200 miles from London. It is concerned with a number of families and couples from Pagford and revolves around the vacancy on the Pagford Parish Council left by the death of Councilor Barry Fairbrother.
The story opens with the death of Barry Fairbrother, dead suddenly at the age of forty from a brain aneurysm. He leaves his widow Mary, who is of course devastated, four children, and a vacancy on the Pagford Parish Council to be filled. Barry was a champion for the Fields, a state-subsidized housing tract on the outskirts of Pagford which has split the loyalties of the members of the Pagford Parish Council. Notably amend those who oppose the Fields and the Bellchapel Addiction Clinic are Howard Mollison, the President of the Council and his wife Shirley, the secretary of the Council and the administrator of its website.
Aligned with Barry is Dr. Parminder Jawanda, the local GP in Pagford. Her daughter Suhkivinder is a student at the local high school, Wintergarden, and was a member of the rowing team that Barry coached as was a girl from the Fields, Krystal Weedon, whose mother, Terri, is a drug addict and is having trouble staying in rehab. Rowing is the first and only thing that Krystal has ever been successful at. She is a tough girl from the streets and cares for her three-and-a-half year old brother Robbie, since her mother is incapable of caring for him due to her drug addiction. Suhkivinder has a problem with cutting her arms due to bullying by Stuart “Fats” Wall, the son of school counselor Tessa Wall and assistant headmaster Colin “Cubby” Wall. Colin Wall has decided to run for Barry Fairbrother’s seat on the Pagford Parish Council and to try to continue his support for the Fields.
Howard Mollison convinces his son Miles Mollison to run for Barry Fairbrother’s seat. He will campaign against the Fields and align himself with his father on the Council. His wife Samantha is not happy with his decision to run. She is sick to death of the politicking about the Fields and the Council. She is unhappy in her marriage and seeks relief in her daughter’s rock band. Her retail bra business is not doing well and she is going to have to close the shop. She is sick of her in-laws as well.
Simon Price, who works at a printer, has also decided that he will run for Barry’s seat but he wants it because he thinks that he can get kickbacks from it. He buys a stolen computer from someone and installs it in his home; he does printing jobs on the side and doesn’t tell his employer. He is always doing something illegal. His beats his wife and twin sons. He is a tyrant. His son Andrew decides to take matters into his own hands to get back at his father and hacks into the Pagford Parish Council website and posts an announcement as The Ghost Of Barry Fairbrother. He states that Simon is not fit to run for Barry’s seat because of the illegal things he has done and goes on to list them. Simon beats his son for talking to someone outside the family and throws the computer in the river and withdraws his name from the race. Later Simon is fired from his job. Andrew gets a job at Howard Mollison’s new café The Copper Kettle, where Suhkivinder and Gaia Bawden also work.
Kay Bawden is a social worker who has recently moved from London with her daughter Gaia to be near her sometime boyfriend Gavin, a lawyer in Pagford. They have a rocky relationship at best. Gavin has regrets about Kay moving to Pagford. He doesn’t really want a relationship with Kay, yet sometimes he does. He was best friends with Barry and takes an interest in consoling his widow Mary and helping her negotiate the problems she is having with getting the life insurance to pay the claim.
Fats Wall and Andrew Price are best friends. Andrew has a crush on Gaia. Fats is having sex with Krystal. Krystal is trying to get pregnant with Fats baby so that she can get her own place in the Fields where she can live with the baby and Robbie away from her mother and the drugs. She is very unhappy since Mr. Fairbrother died and she no longer has rowing to occupy her time. She is also unhappy since her great-grandmother Nana Cath died and she has no one to whom she can go for help. Her mother is in rehab right now but there is always the threat that she will use again if the drug dealer Obo is around. Obo rapes Krystal one night. Krystal knows she has to leave.
The Ghost Of Barry Fairbrother, this time it is Suhkivinder, posts an uncomplimentary post about Parminder Jawanda. It says she was in love with Barry Fairbrother. Then The Ghost posts another about Colin Wall, about his mental illness. This is done by Fats Wall. All these posts are eventually taken down by Shirley Mollison as the administrator of the website, but she doesn’t understand how they are being posted.
The election is held. Miles Mollison wins handily. Howard Mollison holds his 65th birthday party at The Copper Kettle. Samantha had planned on going to London to see the rock band with her daughter but her daughter’s friend’s mother had a friend who will meet them in London and go with them so she had to go to the party. Samantha ended up getting drunk and kissing the young Andrew Price, who was also drunk. Gaia. who was waitressing, was also very drunk and was kissing Fats Wall. Suhkivinder was upset by this since he is the one who has been terrorizing her on the Internet and Gaia is her best friend. Howard and his partner Maureen are singing together. When Shirley arrives home, she finds another post from The Ghost Of Barry Fairbrother, only this one is about Howard. It accuses Howard of having an affair with Maureen and everyone knows about it except Shirley. Shirley goes to the café and gets Andrew EpiPen for his peanut allergy and plans to stab Howard with it, but Howard has a heart attack before she can do that.
In the meantime, Fats and Krystal are having sex in the bushes near the river. They have left Krystal’s little brother Robbie on a bench nearby but he has wandered away and down to the river. Suhkivinder in nearby. Robbie falls into the river. Suhkivinder tries to save him and cuts her leg on a broken computer that has been thrown in the river. Robbie drowns; Fats and Krystal run away. Krystal goes home and when the police come to say that Robbie is dead, she goes to the bathroom and overdoses on heroin. Fats breaks down in his bedroom.
The book ends with Robbie and Krystal’s funeral. Robbie has a little white casket with a flower teddy bear; Krystal has a pink casket with a flower oar. Suhkivinder has organized the flowers and the funeral at St. Michael’s and All Saints Church. Most of the town turns out for the funerals.
I really enjoyed this book. It contains a lot of detail about the lives of the people in Pagford and the motives behind what they do. They are all tainted in some way, all of them. It is a sordid tale of politics and love in a small town. Rowling has done a wonderful job in this her first adult novel. I look forward to many more from her.