OK, let’s get the obvious out of the way right up front. In case you haven’t heard yet, this book is NOTHING like Harry Potter. Not at all. Not even a little bit. If, in reading J.K. Rowling’s first post-Potter book, you were hoping for an adult novel with hints of magic, or a sort of “Hogwarts for Grownups,” I suggest you read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, or Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Do not — I repeat, do NOT read The Casual Vacancy. I mean this.
On the other hand, if you like contemporary, character-driven novels full of social issues and flawed, complex human beings, and you don’t care whose name is on the cover — you should definitely read The Casual Vacancy.
If you perhaps have a tendency to get a little too wrapped up in books and you empathize with characters and feel devastated when something bad happens to a character you’ve grown to love — you should read The Casual Vacancy, but only if you’re feeling particularly mentally well and strong, and have a box of Kleenex handy just in case.
The novel explores the interconnected lives of a group of people (the point of view is omniscient and we see through the viewpoints of at least a dozen different characters throughout the course of the story) living in a small English village. The catalyst for the events of the story is the sudden death of a town councillor, Barry Fairbrother, and fallout, both personal and political, from his death and the scramble to replace him. Small-town political maneuvering taps into bigger issues as mayor (actually he’s a step down from being called mayor because the town isn’t big enough to qualify for a mayor, but that’s basically his role) Howard Mollison is pushing to transfer responsibility for the local public housing estate away from the village of Pagford and onto a nearby town, which will prevent children from public housing from attending Pagford schools and also provide a convenient excuse to close the addictions clinic which serves many of the estate’s residents.