The Casual Vacancy portrays the Pagford community in the aftermath of the death of Barry Fairbrother, one of its most prominent citizens. As a member of the local council, Barry was a champion of the much maligned public housing estate, The Fields. He worked tirelessly to create opportunities for the abject citizenry of his childhood home. While Barry’s death creates the casual vacancy of the title on the Pagford council, it proves devastating to Krystal Weedon, a teenager from The Fields and a member of the school girls’ rowing team that Barry coached.
Rowling’s first adult novel is a critique of the myth of social mobility. All too often, exceptional individuals, such as Barry, are paraded as evidence that with hard work anyone can be successful. But as the divisions and resentments between the residents of Pagford realign in the wake of Barry’s death, it becomes clear that age-old class and cultural distinctions will prevail, not least because of the machinations of its most influential citizens. Rowling offers insight into the often inexplicable psychology of poverty, as well as the complacency and entitlement of the privileged, all the while managing, admirably, a cast of complex characters.