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The Casual Vacancy Book Club: Welcome to Pagford, Where Everyone Is Sad

The Casual Vacancy Book Club: Welcome to Pagford, Where Everyone Is Sad

By Brandon Specktor

Book Club is now in session! Please pass the Cheetos.

First of all, I feel like an idiot for showing up to this thing in my bloomers while most of Pagford seems to wear nothing but splayed-open dressing gowns and spray tans. When early press buzz for CasVac described Rowling's fictional town as "an English idyll," my mind jumped right to an image of poncey Victorian lords and ladies sneering at each other through their kerchiefs and snuff boxes. But nay, ours is a modern idyll, full of scheming web admins, Nintendo distractions, and housing projects that apparently sprout corpses like crabgrass. So… let's all dress accordingly tomorrow.

Second of all, yikes. Yikes. J.K. is no longer hiding her knowledge of human anatomy, and while the words themselves are kind of shocking to read from the same pen that gave us "slughorn" and "horcrux" (which both sound kind of dirty now…) their effect just adds to an even grittier coloring of an already winter-gray town.

Pagford is kind of a bummer, at least in the 50-page introduction we get. Nice houses are filled with ugly people, and ugly slums are filled with misfortune. But hey, Barry Fairbrother seems like a nice dude! Oh wait…he's dead on page five.

There's already a lot to take in in the first two chapters, "Sunday" and "Monday." We'll talk more about them tomorrow, but right now I think it'd be helpful to obsessively list the eighty-bajillion Pagfordians we've just met for the first time. I can already see some early favorites emerging (hint: they're all teenagers). Who do you like so far? Who do you despise? Who'd I miss? Here they are:

Barry Fairbrother: A good man and journalist for the Yarvil and District Gazette who is bad at golfing and also dead. Held a coveted spot on the Parish Council of Pagford, now vacant (casually). Former captain of the Winterdown Comprehensive rowing team (also vacant—formally).

Mary Fairbrother: wife of 19 years and widow of a few hours to Barry, who was kind of a disappointing husband while alive but nevertheless skilled at producing babies.

Declan Fairbrother: Mary and Barry's youngest of four children and the only one to wave goodbye to Barry as he left home for the last time. Probably almost named Larry.

Niamh Fairbrother: One of Mary and Barry's twin daughters. Snogged with fellow student Andrew Price at a school disco party.

The ruined abbey on the hill: probably an important symbol later on because, come on, it's on a hill (and also the back of the book jacket).

Miles Mollison: Witness to Barry's death and strategic ambulance rider. Takes a weird pleasure in relaying the news of death to friends and family. Smells of "vetiver and old sweat."

Samantha Mollison: Miles' wife and primary source of mockery. Habitual tanner. Cleavage referenced in unnecessary detail.

Howard Mollison: Miles' wheezy father. Town delicatessen worker and probably the town's most avid raw meat consumer (dude's fat, yo). Nether-parts referenced in unnecessary detail.

Shirley Mollison: Miles' less-wheezy mother, Howard's separate bed-occupying wife. Member of the Parish Council and administrator of its website. Cute in that "aw, grandma's using the Internet" sort of way. Hated Barry Fairbrother.

Patricia Mollison: Daughter of Howard and Shirley, moved to London. "Rarely mentioned."

Ruth Price: A nurse on duty during Barry's death. Lives with her family above town in lovely Hilltop House. Empathizes with the bereaved Mary Fairbrother, but is super stoked not to be her.

Simon Price: Ruth's abusive husband, an armchair medical expert and professional schmuck who would've just "plugged up" Barry's hemorrhaging brain artery. Works some crappy job at the local print-works and is probably going to regret buying whatever it is he's buying from that young forklift operator.

Andrew Price: Teenage son of Ruth and Simon. Justifiably loathes his schmuck daddy, digs Weetabix and smoking cigarettes indiscreetly. Has acne and an impending day job. Dreams of moving to the city. Slobbers over his new schoolmate Gaia.

Paul Price: Younger son of Ruth and Simon, brother of Andrew. Has...hair? (Sorry, we get nothin' about this kid.)

Gavin Hughes: Lawyer who played squash with Barry and depressingly considers him his besty only after he's dead. Snogging Kay and moved to Pagford for her, but is kind of over it.

Kay: Mother of Gaia. Gavin's girlfriend and "Slavic acrobat" stand-in.

Gaia: Daughter of Kay and a fresh transfer to Winterdown Comprehensive. Has a super hot symmetrical face, says Andrew. None too fond of Gavin.

Krystal Weedon: An early bloomer from The Fields public housing projects—tatted, pierced, and be-thonged.  Found an unknown man's corpse in her mom's bathroom when she was six and developed accordingly. A member of the school rowing team and the subject of Barry's final article.

Stuart "Fats" Wall: Andrew's best friend at Winterdown Comprehensive. He Who Must Be Nicknamed. Son of faculty, but it ain't no thang.

Colin "Cubby" Wall: Fats' daddy and one of Barry's best buds. The deputy head of Winterdown Comp. Loves cubbyholes, apparently, and is unafraid to cry in front of children.

Tessa Wall: Colin's wife and Fats' mother. Along with Colin, was first one called to the hospital on the night of Barry's death. Head of guidance at Winterdown. Cuts her own hair, which seems significant for some reason. Gets on OK with Krystal.

Miss Shawcross: Headmistress of Winterdown Comprehensive. I want to say she looks like Professor McGonagall, but have no basis for that assertion.

Mr. Meacher: Woodwork teacher and apparent school assembly enforcer at the Comp. Kind of Filch-y, right?

Maureen: Howard Mollison's current partner at the Pagford deli, and widow of his original partner. Tries to be down with the youth, but is more down with the Jesus.

Dr. Parminder Jawanda: Frowny Parish Coucil member and mother of Comp. students Sukhvinder, Jaswant, and Rajpal. Lives in the grandest house on Church Row, but still finds time to cry about it. Friend and ally to Barry.

Dr. Vikram Jawanda: Parminder's husband, a cardiac surgeon. Will hopefully deliver some great symbolic speech about "hearts" later on.

That's it for now. What do you guys think of The Casual Vacancy so far? It's starting slow, but even Hogwarts wasn't built in a day, yo.

Let's talk about "Sunday," "Monday," and "Olden Days" tomorrow (up to page 63). Will you keep reading with us, mugglebutts?

Topics: Life
Tags: books, jk rowling, the casual vacancy, the casual vacancy book club

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About the Author
Brandon Specktor

For 22 years, Brandon was a fat kid living in Tucson, AZ, which gave him lots and lots of time to write. He now works at a magazine in New York City, but still loves writing almost as much as he loves muffins.

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email contribute@sparknotes.com.