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  1. Barry Fairbrother, parish councillor in the fictional west country town of Pagford and local good Samaritan, drops dead when out for dinner on his anniversary. His sudden death creates the titular vacancy on the council, contested by deputy head of the town's school Colin Wall, Miles Mollison, solicitor and son of Barry's arch rival, obese local deli owner Howard, and Simon Price, a manager at the local print works. Chief item on the agenda of the council is The Fields, an overspill estate for nearby larger town Yarvill. Pagford fancies itself as a rural idyll and wants The Fields and its methadone clinic off its hands. On the other hand, the clinic's closure could spell catastrophe for heroin addicted Terri Weedon, her teenage daughter Krystal and 3 year old son Robbie. Can local GP Parminder and social worker Kay, the latter newly arrived from London thanks to an affair with Miles's legal partner Gavin, save the day? Under the surface of the supposedly genteel Pagford, animosity rages across a tangle of relationships that feature snobbery, hypocrisy, abuse, bullying, mental illness and rape. All this is blown open when posts start to appear the council's internet forum purportedly written by Barry Fairbrother's ghost. So, Hogwarts Pagford most certainly is not. It is almost as if, with her first post-Potter novel, Rowling's ambition was to write something ultra-realistic and, as a formerly penniless single Mum, make some political points, particularly about class. Most of these are made through the kind of social satire that Kate Atkinson and the late Sue Townsend excel in, and this sits sometimes uneasily with the brutality of the abusive Simon and the grimness of life in The Fields. The novel's relatively bleak ending only serves to highlight the contrast. The result is a decent enough novel that, whilst extremely readable, can sometimes seem uneven. For example, it is perhaps not surprising that Rowling seems more sure footed portraying the lives of Pagford's teenagers than their parents, some of whom seem less well drawn characters than their children. The Casual Vacancy is, perhaps, a rural counterpart to John Lanchester's Capital, published around the same time, although its brush strokes are much broader.
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