Yesterday, JK Rowling's "The Casual Vacancy" came out. Some of you (especially non-Harry Potter fans) might not be so keen on reading it. Why spend $35 on a 500-page tome written by a children's author?
At the same time, we feel that in order to take part in the cocktail party conversation that will surround the novel for the rest of this fall, you'll need to know some key points and themes in the book.
Therefore, here are all the major spoilers from Rowling's first adult book. WE SAID SPOILERS! Consider yourselves warned.
BASIC PLOT: Barry Fairbrother, a local council member, dies suddenly in the small, fictional town of Pagford, leaving a vacancy in the town council. Chaos ensues. The main problem between the opposing factions who want to fill his position concerns "The Fields" (the extremely impoverished area of Pagford). Should it be considered part of Pagford or the neighboring town of Yarvil? If it is no longer part of Pagford, the methadone clinic (Bellchapel) would have to be shut down. The council is currently in deadlock, so whoever gets elected to the position, gets to wield the power.
After the election date is announced, things take a turn for the worse, as the teenage children of various candidates and existing council members sabotage their parents' ambitions through anonymous postings on the council's website, using the name "The_Ghost_Of_Barry_Fairbrother." Meanwhile, the teenagers themselves are caught up in their own, school and relationship-related dramas.
More fundamental are the issues faced by teenager Krystal Weedon, who lives in The Fields with her mother, a heroin addict and occasional prostitute. Krystal gets raped by a drug deal, her three-year-old half brother falls into the river and drowns while she's having sex in a park, and finally she kills herself, deliberately overdosing on her mother's heroin. The book ends as it opens, with a death and a funeral.
PRINCIPLE CHARACTERS (BRACE YOURSELF...THERE ARE MANY)
Barry Fairbrother: The councilman who dies in the first chapter. He ran the girls' rowing team and was a huge supporter of Krystal Wheedon
Mary Fairbrother: Barry's widow
Krystal Weedon: A teenager who lives in The Fields
Terri Weedon: Krystal's mother, a heroin addict
Robbie Weedon: Krystal's three-year-old half brother
Obbo: Terri's drug dealer
Nana Cath: Krystal's great-grandmother, Terri's paternal grandmother
Howard Mollison: Council chairperson, obese, owns a delicatessen. Wants to close down the methadone clinic and push The Fields out of Pagford's jurisdiction
Shirley Mollison: Howard's wife, hates Samantha (see below)
Samantha Mollison: Howard and Shirley's daughter-in-law, married to Miles, runs an unsuccessful bra shop
Miles Mollison: Howard and Shirley's son, owns a small legal firm, puts himself up for election
Maureen: Howard's business parter in the delicatessen, elderly gossip
Colin Wall: Deputy head of the school (vice principal), close friend of Barry's, puts himself up for election, secretly suffers from OCD
Tessa Wall: High school guidance counselor, married to Colin. Sympathizes with Krystal, wants to help her
Stuart "Fats" Wall: Tessa and Colin's son; hates "inauthenticity", popular at school, hates his father, torments Sukhvinder both at school and anonymously online about her weight and her facial hair
Simon Price: Works at a print works, puts himself up for election because he hears that there are opportunities for corruption and to receive bribes, bullies his children
Ruth Price: Simon's wife, a nurse
Andrew Price: Simon and Ruth's son, best friends with "Fats", suffers from acne, hates his father, besotted with Gaia
Kay Bawden: Social worker, new in town from London, moved to Pagford to be with Gavin, who's not that into her. Tries to help Krystal and Terri
Gaia Bawden: Kay's daughter, love interest of Andrew
Gavin Hughes: Miles's junior in his legal company, Barry's friend, Kay's "boyfriend"
Parminder Jawanda: Doctor, council member, friend of Barry's, wants to keep The Fields part of Pagford
Vikram Jawanda: Parminder's husband, surgeon, completely disengaged with everything that happens in the book
Sukhvinder Jawanda: Parminder and Vikram's teenage daughter, friends with Gaia, insecure, bullying victim
DETAILED PLOT SPOILERS:
Rihanna feat. Jay-Z's song "Umbrella" features in both funerals, at the beginning and end of the book. It's the song that Barry and Krystal used to sing on the way to rowing competitions.
Simon Price is verbally and physically abusive towards his whole family.
Pakminder is probably in love with Barry Fairbrother, and the revelation of that, anonymously by her daughter on the council website, shames her.
Krystal Weedon's mom Terri is a heroin addict. She never gets clean, though the encouragement of her social workers, and the proximity of the threatened methadone clinic, seem to have the potential to help her.
Andrew is the first to post a message on the council website under the name "The_Ghost_Of_Barry_Fairbrother". He writes that his father has been buying stolen computers and doing off-hours print jobs at his office, in order to make his father withdraw from the election. He succeeds. His father also loses his job.
Sukhvinder then posts a message on the council website under the same name, about her mother being in love with Barry.
Finally, "Fats" posts a message on the council website under the ghost's name, about his father Colin Wall, the viceprincipal, being a child molester. Though it's not clear if his father ever did molest a child, his father's OCD means that he is constantly terrified that he might.
Sukhvinder is a cutter.
Miles Mollison wins the election.
"Fats" was adopted.
Krystal stops using contraception with "Fats" because she wants to have his baby so she can move away from The Fields and take Robbie with her.
Samantha Mollison, a woman in her 40s, gets drunk and kisses Andrew Price.
Samantha Mollison is probably an alcoholic, and is not in love with her husband.
Colin Wall's severe OCD also makes him think that he might have poisoned his best friend, Barry.
Mary, Barry's widow, does not like Colin Wall.
Kay and Gavin break up.
Gavin is in love with Mary Fairbrother. He admits this to her and she rejects him.
Howard Mollison ALMOST dies at the end, following a major heart attack spurred by the message by "Fats" on the council website, revealing that Howard Mollison is having an affair with his business partner, Maureen.
"Fats" takes the responsibility for all of the messages on the council website, even though he only posted one of them.
"Fats" has unprotected sex with Krystal Weedon and also makes out with Gaia.
Krystal Weedon gets raped by a drug dealer who says he is her half-brother Robbie's father.
Krystal Weedon's three-year-old brother, Robbie, drowns under her care, while "Fats" is having sex with her in a park. Sukhvinder jumps into the river to try and save him, and gains some self respect in the process.