You know your weekends are a little, umm, different to everyone else's when a friend asks what your plans are for the rest of the weekend and you reply excitedly, "I'm going to buy the new J.K. Rowling book and read it." Which is precisely what happened to me a week ago. I am a nerd and I know it.
Anyway, seeing as I have already weighed in on the whole, The Casual Vacancy is not Harry Potter debate (read more here,) I'll cut straight to reviewing the book. The Casual Vacancy is the story of a small English town and the eccentrics and hypocrites that live within its boundaries. It opens with the premature death of Barry Fairbrother, a well respected or much hated member of the local council, depending on which townsperson that you talk to. Barry was basically a good man, who believed in helping those who he considered less fortunate than himself. Not everyone agrees with Barry's vision of helping others. Now the council has a casual vacancy waiting to be filled and the divide begins between those who want to keep Barry's vision alive and those who think they finally have a chance to rid the town of Barry's visions. The adults are eccentric, insecure, bitter and have various secrets. Colin the school for example has OCD and fears that he may have touched a student inappropriately, even though he cannot remember doing so, Samantha is lusting after the singer from her favourite boy band. And then there are the local teenagers, each one more damaged and repulsive than the last, particularly Fats who takes some kind of pride from hurting others. Quite possibly the most likeable character in the book is Krystal Weedon, the trashy and somewhat outspoken daughter of a heroin addict. And naturally, it is Krystal who suffers the most throughout the pages of the book.
The Casual Vacancy could have been told in far less words and far fewer pages and still been an interesting, well written novel. A bit long and a bit boring in places, it remains though an interesting account of hypocrisy and life in a small English town.