We are back today with more conventional narrative in the present. So let’s jump right in to the next day.

I

I thought it was very noticeable that for all the people we met in the second chapter and saw how they reacted to Barry’s death, we didn’t actually see how Mary or any of the Fairbrother family themselves were dealing with it. So I am glad to see that we are back with Mary now. She’s devastated, and so is at least one of Barry’s sons who crawled into bed with her sobbing in the middle of the night. (He is said to be 12, which makes this behavior very strange. Maybe this is to show that he’s so devastated by his father’s death he reverts back to emotional immaturity, or maybe Rowling just didn’t think it through. Who knows?)

Rowling does a very good job writing Mary’s mourning, and it’s very realistic and tragic.

Every hour that passed added to her grief, because it bore her farther and farther away from the living man, and because it was a tiny foretaste of the eternity she would have to spend without him. Again and again she found herself forgetting, for the space of a heartbeat, that he was gone forever and that she could not turn to him for comfort.

It’s perfect. Gone forever. Exactly the words I associate with death, gone forever.

Darling, forever is a long, long time, and time has a way of changing things.”

– Big Mama, The Fox and the Hound (1981)

And then Mary has to deal with the journalist calling asking to speak to Barry about his interview with Krystal Weedon. Poor woman, how much must that hurt? And her reaction is just perfect and very believable.

Then she remembered that most of Barry’s last day on earth and their wedding anniversary had been given over to his obsession with the Fields and Krystal Weedon; fury erupted, and she threw the mobile so hard across the room that it hit a framed picture of their four children, knocking it to the floor. She began to scream and cry at once, and her sister and brother-in-law both came running upstairs and burst into the room.

All they could get out of her at first was, “The Fields, the bloody, bloody Fields…”

“It’s where me and Barry grew up,” her brother-in-law muttered, but he explained no further, for fear of inflaming Mary’s hysteria.


So, yes, Mary appears to have as much resentment for the Fields than Howard. And doubtless even more resentment towards her husband than Howard for his defense of Krystal Weedon in the newspaper, and anger over this tainting his legacy and her memory of him. What an interesting situation.

Also, the sister and brother-in-law are unusual additions. You’d think they’d be main characters in the story, but Rowling doesn’t mention their names.

II

We are back with Kay, who it turns out is a social worker and Pagford’s newest adult resident. We get a lot of new information about her which is interesting, and then we see her go off on an appointment to the house where Krystal Weedon lives. I really like how intricately connected all these characters are, even to the point of confusion.

She was experiencing that slight apprehension that she had never quite overcome, although it was nothing compared to the nerves with which she had faced unknown doors in the early days. Then, in spite of all her training, in spite of the fact that a colleague usually accompanied her, she had, on occasion, been truly afraid.
Dangerous dogs; men brandishing knives; children with grotesque injuries; she had found them all, and worse, in her years of entering strangers’ houses.

I like how Rowling gets into the mind of a social worker and does a good job of portraying what it would be like for one. I wonder if she spoke with any actual social workers in writing this?

And it’s interesting to see Kay’s perspective on an issue we already got Gavin’s perspective on. He was judgmental about Kay not having fixed up her house, although she had said she was planning to, but he doubted it because her old flat was similar. And now we see Kay angry that Gavin did not offer to help with fixing it up.

Sometimes Kay counted over the things that he had not said or done, like a miser looking through IOUs, and felt bitter and angry, and determined to extract repayment.

Gives me a mental picture of Scrooge McDuck: “I think the ducking stool should be revived for dead-beats that never pay their debts! Here’s one no-good welcher that has owed me TEN CENTS – a measly DIME – since 1950! That’s disgraceful! Anybody that owes me less than two million dollars is a piker! I can’t sue the slippery eel for such a trifling sum! I can’t foreclose on his house!… HOW will I collect that debt? I know! I’ll put a COLLECTOR on his trail!

And then Kay gets let in, and we get just pages and pages of her appointment with Krystal’s drug addict mother and her 3-and-a-half-year-old son (Krystal is at school).
I think Rowling does a good job portraying the house, but Jesus, this house. My father would always clean the whole house up every time the TV repairman came, and this woman doesn’t even make herself presentable for a social worker! Although she did do some small work, we see.

It seems more like something taking place in the moment than anything else I’ve read. It feels like things naturally playing out at a house like this in real life. I guess the point is to show us Krystal’s horrible home life and why she would need to rebel from something like this. And also some character development for Kay, who realizes that despite being a complete and utter failure in life, Krystal’s mother is happier than she is because she just doesn’t care.  It has to be difficult to develop all these characters, and I have to say I’m impressed.

III

The story now goes to Andrew’s friend, Fats, cutting school.

And I have to say, Fats is my absolute favorite character in this book. This is one of the most fascinating, excellently-written characters I have ever read.

His philosophy is explored so in depth, so logically, I wouldn’t be surprised if this book ends up being studied in literature classes and studied by literature scholars ala The Catcher in the Rye.  It certainly deserves it. (I wish I had read The Catcher in the Rye in order to compare.)

I love it, just absolutely love all of it. Don’t be embarrassed, don’t be ashamed, no matter how that person is. Be authentic. This is not to say I am endorsing Fats’s world-view. While the message might seem good, in his view it means being happy with absolutely whoever you are, forsaking all conventional morality. And it bothers me extremely that Rowling just comes in and says why Fats is doing this: to be a child again, to get back the feelings of innocence and immaturity he left behind. Why did Rowling so lack ambition? This is an analysis that could have been made by psychologists, literature professors, and she just had to go out there and say it all for them.

And this goes into his flagrant, unhesitant desire for sex. It was a bit of a shock to see his relationship with Krystal Weedon come up so suddenly like this. The sexual activity described between them is shockingly graphic; it’s hard to believe this is from J.K. Rowling and I am impressed how she’s willing to distance myself. I don’t think it’s gratuitous, either. This follows at the natural next step in Fats’s personality.

“You boys keep wanking. I want a shag.”
That had wiped the smiles off their faces. He could tell that all of them, Andrew included, were forced to choke down their jeers at his choice, in admiration of his unabashed pursuit of the one, the only true goal. Fats had undoubtedly chosen the most direct route to get there; no one could argue with his commonsense practicality, and Fats could tell that every single one of them was asking himself why he had not had the guts to consider this means to a most satisfactory end.

It seems very noticeably inauthentic, however, that Fats is openly concerned with hiding this relationship from his mother.

IV

The narrative goes back to Kay, back at the clinic now. I suppose some people will find it annoying how nosy these social workers are, but it’s not as if they don’t have reason to care. No child should have to live under these conditions, and understandably, Kay wants another case review done on the Weedons.

The whole scene is, as typical, very well-written and seems to be taking place in the moment, rather than written and planned ahead of time. It’s mainly a discussion between Kay and her co-workers about Terri and then Kay’s attempts to call people dealing with Terri.

One of Kay’s co-workers says that Terri claims she is terrified of her son being taken away from her, but you’d think she’d make an effort to prevent that from happening if that were the case. I mean, for God’s sake, she even swore at Kay and told her to “fuck off and stay away“.

But then we go into Kay’s personal life with Gavin, which is the right choice. We’re given much-needed backstory on their relationship, and it’s clear Gavin has gotten himself into a very difficult situation. This situation is thought through very well by Rowling, and there’s no stupid mistake we can accuse her of making.

However, we’ve gotten so far away from Barry Fairbrother’s death and the political scene it’s like we’re reading a different novel. I can’t imagine how any of this is going to be relevant to the main political drama-centered story.

V

And now right back with Fats’s story, though this time it’s through Tessa’s POV. She and her husband meet up in the parking lot after school and get into the car to wait fror Fats. We get a lot of understanding of Cubby’s relationship with his son.

“…not there. Didn’t turn up for the whole double period. Said he thought he’d better come straight and tell me. So that’ll be all over the staff room, tomorrow. Exactly what he wants,” said Colin furiously, and Tessa knew they were not talking about the computing teacher anymore. “He’s just sticking two fingers up at me, as usual.”

Yes, I guess “two fingers up” is the British equivalent of the “middle finger”.

And it’s interesting to see how Tessa knows so much about her son that he doesn’t know, because of what her patients tell her. Rowling is a smart woman, and she thinks of these things.

And oh my God, I just love Fats’s character and his interactions with his father. It is so utterly hilarious and enjoyable to read.

Tessa’s crying during her husband’s tirade makes me think that their relationship is a bit too similar to the Prices’, though. But the Cubby comes out in his self-consciousness at swearing and when he breaks down sobbing in his wife’s arms in the kitchen.

Tessa has to deliver a casserole to Mary Fairbrother, but first she goes up to Fats’s room to speak with him.

A swift burst of ratlike activity greeted her approach to the door. She knocked, giving Fats time to hide whatever it was he had been looking at online, or, perhaps, the cigarettes he did not know she knew about.

Some people may think I’ve been too praising of Rowling, and I will say that this seems out-of-character for Fats. His whole moral philosophy is centered around not hiding who you are, so why does he try to hide who he is from his mother? You could say it’s because he doesn’t want to get in trouble, but his actions in the car show he doesn’t care about that. Still, we were told that Fats “experimenting with acting on what he thought were his authentic impulses, and ignoring or suppressing the guilt and fear (inauthentic) that such actions seemed to engender” was a new thing, and that “he wanted to toughen up inside, to become invulnerable, to be free of the fear of consequences: to rid himself of spurious notions of goodness and badness.“, which implies he hasn’t fully succeeded at it yet.

But Tessa seems to have a good argument against her son’s moral philosophy.

She wanted to scream, You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.

And she’s right in saying that his relationship with Andrew is very similar to Colin’s relationship with Barry.

It’s interesting to see how he respects his mother much more than his father. It’s clearly much easier to be himself with his father than with his mother. Everything about this family is fascinating. I love reading about them.

VI

This section is from the POV of Samantha getting ready for dinner with Miles’ parents. Samantha isn’t a very interesting character, and Rowling is using her to make a statement about women being too concerned over their looks.

Miles’ respect for commerce shows good consistency for Rowling, though, remembering all her writing about Howard’s admiration for business.

Also, this is eerie.

Darkness was falling properly, and at the top of the road they passed a shadowy man with Barry Fairbrother’s silhouette and gait; it gave Samantha a shock and she glanced back at him, wondering who he could be.

OH MY GOD IS BARRY FAIRBROTHER STILL ALIVE? Given Rowling’s propensity for shocking twists, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case, but HOW ON EARTH IS THAT POSSIBLE? Did his political opponents slip him a drug that would simulate an anuerysm, then kidnap him at the hospital and pay off the hospital to say that he had died and he escaped from them? Oh my god oh my god. Knowing Rowling, this has just got to be foreshadowing something. What the fuck is going to happen?

And then they get to the house. Some of the observations by Rowling are clever, and this scene is very well-written, in-the-moment not feeling pre-written like I’ve said before. Rowling does a good job again showing how they talk about Fairbrother’s death while simultaneously showing who these characters are. Her characterization is very good and consistent. And it is fun hearing them talk about Gavin’s relationship that we have been seeing, just seeing how interrelated the characters are.

But now the main politics-centered plot and intrigue comes in, with them discussing what will happen now that Fairbrother is dead, but it is interrupted by off-hand details about Vikram and Howard’s heart surgery. But I guess that’s the point, to illustrate that Samantha’s mind is casually going off on tangents due to her intoxication, and to further the characterization of Samantha as a shallow woman.

Samantha had heard somewhere, not long after they had become her neighbors, that Vikram and Parminder had had an arranged marriage. She had found this idea unspeakably erotic. Imagine being ordered to marry Vikram, having to do it; she had wrought a little fantasy in which she was veiled and shown into a room, a virgin condemned to her fate… Imagine looking up, and knowing you were getting that… Not to mention the additional frisson of his job: that much responsibility would have given a much uglier man sex appeal…

This is certainly not your children’s J.K. Rowling novel. (In fact, I keep forgetting that this even is a J.K. Rowling novel, it’s so different from her others!) This kind of flagrant sexual insights are shocking. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very relevant to establishing who Samantha is, and given her dissatisfaction with Miles shown before, I think it might be foreshadowing Samantha bribed with sex by one of Miles’s political opponents for secrets about his campaign.

And it is nice to see Rowling’s characterization isn’t quite so simple. Howard isn’t a completely bad guy. He’s very grateful to the doctor who saved his life. It would be nice to see some good aspects to Shirley, though, too.

But now we have the beginning of that political intrigue we were promised:

“What we should be thinking about is who’s going to replace Fairbrother. We shouldn’t underestimate Bends-Your-Ear, however upset she might be. That would be a great mistake. She’s probably trying to rustle up somebody already, so we ought to be thinking about a decent replacement ourselves. Sooner rather than later. Simple matter of good governance.”
“What will that mean, exactly?” Miles asked. “An election?”
“Possibly,” said Howard, with a judicious air, “but I doubt it. It’s only a casual vacancy. If there isn’t enough interest in an election – though, as I say, we must not underestimate Bends-Your-Ear – but if she can’t raise nine people to propose a public vote, it’ll be a simple question of co-opting a new councillor. In that case, we’d need nine members’ votes to get the co-option ratified. Nine’s the quorum. Three years of Fairbrother’s term of office left to run. Worth it. Could swing the whole thing, putting one of our side in, instead of Fairbrother.”

And Samantha realizes that Howard is planning on nominating Miles to replace Barry.

The political intrigue and back-stabbing we were promised is coming nearer, and I can hardly wait. I like that Rowling doesn’t simplify this business for mass audience. She knows what it involves and she’s portraying it the way it is.

(I finished this section very pessimistic and dis-pleased with it, but looking it over here, I think it’s a lot stronger than I originally thought.)

VII

I thought that Rowling was going to spend this section detailing Tessa’s visit with the Fairbrothers. But no, she shrugs through that to the point where Tessa is going home. I guess she thought it would be too similar to the last section, and perhaps boring. But it disappoints me that we see the Fairbrothers’ reaction to Barry’s death only for such a short time, as good as it was. But this is a good, albeit, brief mention of their grief:

their extended family had closed in around the gaping vacuum left by death, but no amount of noise and activity could mask the chasm into which Barry had vanished.

But this is intriguing. Numerous hints are dropped to some mysterious secret that lies at the heart of their marriage that Tessa hopes Barry didn’t know. It seems fairly obvious that Tessa accidentally damaged Colin’s genitals and rendered him infertile some time after Fats was born. Poor Colin. It would explain the falsetto voice.

Tessa hated to think that Barry might have known… that his kindness towards Colin had been actuated by pity for what she, Tessa, had done…

Tessa goes into the sitting room and talks to her husband, and we get an interesting bit of observation by Tessa.

Tessa fought down an impulse to snap. Colin had a habit of making sweeping judgments based on first impressions, on single actions. He never seemed to grasp the immense mutability of human nature, nor to appreciate that behind every nondescript face lay a wild and unique hinterland like his own.

In a way, I wish Rowling would let us figure this out without flat-out telling us, but it creates a similarity with Samantha Price, “wives at war with their husbands“. And it lets us know Rowling’s philosophy very clearly. “The immense mutability of human nature” is the message I thought she was trying to send.

And then we get to the political intrigue. It’s very well done, with Colin talking passionately about how he wants to take Barry’s seat on the Senate so he can continue what Barry fought for and make sure “everything he worked for doesn’t go up in smoke“. Tessa hates the idea, thinks he is the last man for the job, but is only supportive out loud.

Years of experience had taught her that Colin ought not to be opposed in the first throes of his enthusiasm, or it would simply entrench him in his determination to proceed. Those same years had taught Colin that Tessa often pretended to agree before raising objections. These kinds of exchanges were always infused with their mutual, unexpressed remembrance of that long-buried secret. Tessa felt that she owed him. He felt that he was owed.

The psychology is so well done. This is the kind of scene I’ve been waiting for. The political drama is coming ever, ever closer.

Tessa went to take off her wristwatch, then realized that she had mislaid it yesterday. So tired…she kept losing things…and how could she have forgotten to call Parminder? Tearful, worried and tense, she shuffled off to bed.

I like the end of this chapter, when the political drama is established, but it seems like this book is trying to do too many things at once. This is not the political intrigue book we were promised in the previews. I like the characters’ plots and how they are interrelated, but they just don’t seem necessary. They seem like things that should be left for another book. But at the same time I like Fats. I like the scene with Kay at the Weedons’ house. These are good characters. These are good scenes. I don’t know. Maybe they’ll all come together well somehow. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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