casual vacancy, according to Charles Arnold-Baker's Local Council Administration, is said to have occurred when a councillor's seat is vacated during the term of office due to the councillor's disqualification, resignation or death. Such a situation befalls the council of the small town of Pagford when councillor Barry Fairbrother dies suddenly of an aneurysm.
Fairbrother's death has far greater implications for Pagford than it might first appear – potentially affecting even the limits of the town. The Fields, a council estate populated by people from a distinctly different social class to most of Pagford, technically comes under the purview of the town. For a long time now, various members of the council have been trying to have the Fields declared a part of a nearby city instead. Fairbrother, himself a former resident of the Fields, led the faction in favour of keeping the area within the town.
J.K Rowling's first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy uses the politically fraught atmosphere after the councillor's death to tell the story of the interlocking lives of a number of residents of a small town, all of whom have in some way been touched by Barry Fairbrother. At one end of the social scale is Krystal Weedon, one of Fairbrother's pet projects. The daughter of a drug addict and frequently in trouble at school, Krystal is also the backbone of the school rowing team and is singlehandedly trying to look after her baby brother lest social services take him away. At the other end are the Mollisons, socially aspiring snobs and Fairbrother's rivals on the council, who are seemingly possessed of every possible vice; Howard is fat, Shirley is homophobic, both are racist.
Indeed, a large portion of The Casual Vacancy seems dedicated to showing us just how unpleasant and how banal its characters' lives are. They speak and think in cliché; "Christ, it puts everything in perspective though," sighs Miles Mollison. "Goes to show, doesn't it," says Simon Price ("portentuously," in case the reader somehow missed the point).
No one here is entirely pleasant. Parminder Jawanda, Fairbrother's ally on the council, may have the right politics (and it's always clear what those are) but she is a terrible mother to her youngest daughter. Kay Bawden, a social worker, clings desperately to a relationship that is over. Simon Price is abusive and violent; his wife Ruth enables and excuses his behaviour.