In "The Casual Vacancy," by J.K. Rowling, two towns are separated by a small mountain.
For decades, the small English town of Pagford enjoyed a quiet, genteel existence.
Quaint shops and professional offices populate the town center and the residential neighborhoods are havens for the middle and upper middle class. It is what we often call a bedroom community.
Yarvil, the larger town on the other side of the mountain, is anything but quaint, quiet, or genteel. It has all the characteristics and challenges of an active, urban area.
In recent times, Pagford has been forced to share the expenses for various social programs that the good people of Pagford feel are only needed for the less desirable elements of Yarvil.
However, several members of the Pagford town council feel that their town is better served by working with Yarvil to deal with these social issues.
The sudden death of this group's leader, Barry Fairbrother, leaves his council seat vacant and gives the novel its title.
In England, such unexpected openings of elected positions are called casual vacancies.
Fairbrother's death sets in motion an intensely bitter battle to fill his seat.
It's no surprise that many of the adults of Pagford behave very badly in their efforts to do "what is best for Pagford" while advancing their own agendas.
But, surprisingly, their kids have agendas of their own, and are just as effective as their parents at ruining the lives of those in their way.
In short, both generations demonstrate the ability to turn picking on the vulnerabilities of others into a blood sport.
First, this novel represents a significant departure for Rowling from the fantasy world of her "Harry Potter" series. It is not for children or perhaps even young adult readers.
With few exceptions, the characters are vindictive, self-centered, and demonstrate a level of psychological cruelty and viciousness that sweeps through the book like a tsunami.
Second, in Rowling's pre-Harry Potter days, she was divorced, living on public assistance, and raising a child as a single parent.
I think that she was on the receiving end of such viciousness at that time and is using this novel as her way of letting people know what she thinks of such behavior.