The Casual Vacancy is a 2012 novel by J.K. Rowling. After finishing the Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling wanted to write a book "for adults", and wrote this, a work of what is termed "Literary Fiction". Set in a single small town in the West Country of England, and features no elements of the fantastic or the supernatural.
The book is about the society and politics of the fictional town of Pagford. When Barry Fairbrother, a successful and compassionate man who has a seat on the Parrish Council, dies of a sudden aneurysm, his seat on the council is open--- the titular Casual Vacancy. Although the affairs of the town might seem small, the race to fill his seat becomes contentious. The heart of this contention is the status of a housing project on the edge of town that is disliked by many of the residents, but that the popular Fairbrother had managed to defend.
The novel follows about a dozen main characters, in several families, that scheme and counter-scheme against each other, with the race stirring up old rivalries and stirring all sorts of ambitions. Larger social issues, such as racism and classism, are in the background. The realism can vary from the comedic (the gossips and pretensions of the middle class) to the brutal (the scenes of drug usage and child abuse).
The biggest question going into this novel for me was, as it was for many, how it would compare with Rowling's Harry Potter novels. The Harry Potter novels were the only books to be released with the fanfare of movies or musics, they went beyond being books to being cultural phenomena. So how does a piece of literary fiction with a realistic plot compare to that? Personally, I really liked it. For the first thirty or so pages, I wasn't sure, but once I started to read, I wanted to find out how the book would end up. Other reviewers have called the book a soap opera, and in many ways, it is, and some of the characters and situations are predictable. The bored housewife who starts lusting after a boy band that her daughter follows, the overworked social worker who clings to a disinterested man, and many others are all things that could be seen as cheap targets of social satire. But for whatever reason, the characters came alive to me and I wanted to find out more about them. This could have been due to the benefit of the doubt that Rowling's name gets for her, but in any case, at a certain point the characterization of the book grabbed me and fascinated me.
What the long term impact of this book will be, and whether it will be judged alongside Harry Potter, or just as a footnote, is something that remains to be seen.