Saturday, the day of Barry Fairbrother’s funeral.
And the chapter begins so solemnly.
Every parking space in Church Row was taken by nine o’clock in the morning.
But this all changes in literally a fraction of a second.
Darkly clothed mourners moved, singly, in pairs and in groups, up and down the street, converging, like a stream of iron filings drawn to a magnet, on St. Michael and All Saints. The path leading to the church doors became crowded, then overflowed; those who were displaced fanned out among the graves, seeking safe spots to stand between the headstones, fearful of trampling on the dead, yet unwilling to move too far from the church entrance. It was clear to everyone that there would not be enough pews for all the people who had come to say good-bye to Barry Fairbrother.
Yeah, this is the exact opposite of what I expected. I mean I feel so embarrassed about what I said at the end of the last chapter, because Barry’s funeral is absolutely hilarious, wonderful British humor all through. It reminded me of the Harry Potter series, and that I was reading a book written by J.K. Rowling, which it had started to not seem like.
Rowling said in an interview that she considered the book to be a dark comedy and I didn’t really understand how it could be considered that. But now I do. But for people who just kept reading on from the end of the last chapter, this really marks an abrupt change of tone. What kind of comedy features a teenage girl cutting herself while we get insights into her genuine emotional sadness? I honestly think this book is unclassifiable in terms of genre, and that’s one more reason I have to like it.
What’s more, most of the comedy comes from the characters and is thoroughly in-character with what we knew of them so far. I have to applaud Rowling for it; she’d make a good British sitcom writer.
And really this is mostly character-related material, and it’s done very well. Rowling has a good job creating these characters and knows who they are. Granted, there are still several random tangents the writing goes off on which are annoying. Also, the tone again changes once we get inside the church, and we get some more depressing writing from Sukhvinder’s perspective.
But this is a very, very well done section, with excellent insights into the characters, and such a rapid change in tone again at the end, with a hilarious ending.
The congregation filed slowly out of the church, trying not to walk in time to the beat of the song.
One thing that annoys me about American funeral homes is that a lot of them won’t let people put a joke on their tombstones, they have to be so serious and solemn and it has to be about what they want, not the deceased person. It’s so self-centered and infuriating. It should be every person’s right to put whatever he/she wants on his tombstone. This is not about YOU.
Also, it’s pretty hard to believe Barry had that many friends and people who knew about him. But it is a small town, and I suppose maybe everyone does know each other in the small towns in England. I wouldn’t know.
Yes, we haven’t had a section from Andrew’s POV for a while. I had started to feel Rowling had abandoned him in favor of Fats. But here he is riding off through the Square. He gets to the cemetery where Barry is being buried, but rides right past because “he did not want to see Fats emerging from church with a distraught Cubby, wearing the cheap suit and tie that he had described with comical disgust during yesterday’s English lesson”
And we get more of his puppy love of Gaia.
She was there. On the pavement. Andrew’s legs continued to pump, though he could not feel the pedals, and he was suddenly aware how thin the tires were on which he balanced. She was rummaging in her leather handbag, her copper-brown hair hanging around her face. Number ten on the door ajar behind her, and a black T-shirt falling short of her waist: a band of bare skin, and a heavy belt and tight jeans…when he was almost past her, she closed the door and turned; her hair fell back from her beautiful face, and she said, quite clearly, in her London voice, “Oh, hi.”
“Hi,” he said. His legs kept pedaling. Six feet away, twelve feet away; why hadn’t he stopped? Shock kept him moving, he dared not look back; he was at the end of her street already; for fuck’s sake don’t fall off; he turned the corner, too stunned to gauge whether he was more relieved or disappointed that he had left her behind.
Oh, Rowling couldn’t do a better job depicting it.
It’s actually a very nice scene with Andrew riding off to his old hide-away by the river that he discovered with Fats when he was 11. It reminds me of how my sister and I would go away to the dirt mounds far down the road when I was about that age.
Before Andrew lights his cigarette (that he bought with the last of his school money; what store would sell a 16-year-old-looking kid cigarettes without checking his ID?) , it’s actually very innocent.
And he asked himself for the umpteenth time whether it was conceivable that flesh and bone wrought like that could contain a banal personality. It was only Gaia who had ever made him wonder this: the idea of body and soul as separate entities had never once occurred to him until he had clapped eyes on her. Even while trying to imagine what her breasts would look like and feel like, judged by the visual evidence he had managed to gather through a slightly translucent school shirt, and what he knew was a white bra, he could not believe that the allure she held for him was exclusively physical. She had a way of moving that moved him as much as music, which was what moved him most of all. Surely the spirit animating that peerless body must be unusual too? Why would nature make a vessel like that, if not to contain something still more valuable?
Rowling’s writing is so beautiful here, so excellent. I’m glad to see Andrew isn’t completely shallow. She is giving some teenage boys some credit for not focusing entirely on physical attraction.
All the innocence abruptly vanishes after that, though. This writing still doesn’t feel as forced as Gruen’s, though; sex is a big part of adolescent years, as opposed to a 23-year-old’s (he’s still a virgin, force, force).
Then Fats arrives, and they talk.
“Cubby upset, was he?”
“Upset? He’s having fucking hysterics. He’s given himself hiccups. He’s worse than the fucking widow.”
It bothers me that Colin’s crying over Barry’s passing is used as humor, though. I hate the stigma about a man not being able to cry, and besides, Barry was his best friend! I suppose it is in character for Andrew and Fats, though, and I enjoy Andrew’s observations comparing Simon to pagan gods. Funny and he has a point.
Then we get this extremely exciting piece of news.
“He reckons Fairbrother was getting backhanders from some contractor.” Andrew had heard Simon discussing it with Ruth in the kitchen that morning. It had explained everything. “He wants a bit of the action.”
“That wasn’t Barry Fairbrother,” said Fats, laughing as he flicked ash onto the cave floor. “And that wasn’t the Parish Council. That was What’s-his-name Frierly, up in Yarvil. He was on the school board at Winterdown. Cubby had a fucking fit. Local press calling him for a comment and all that. Frierly got done for it. Don’t Si-Pie read the Yarvil and District Gazette?”
Knew it. So Barry really was an all-around good guy. I cannot tell you how exciting that was to read.
As the boys discover from each other that both their parents want Barry’s seat, Fats makes a sly observation:
“So will voters go for the cunt,” he said, “or the twat?”
We’ll just have to wait and find out.
The marijuana inclusion does seem gratuitous, though, and bordering on Gruen. I have to enjoy, though, how it feels almost innocent, those fond carefree days of being a teenager, sitting in a cave smoking marijuana with your best friend and talking about how you lost your virginity and how it feels to have sex. It has a Tom Sawyer feel, but in the real world. Yes, I have a feeling Mark Twain would have loved this scene.
And it is beautiful writing, as they discuss what matters in life. It feels a lot like Stephen King’s depiction of childhood years in The Body, from what I’ve heard of the movie. (He’s reviewed all of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book, why not this? I hope we’ll hear his opinion on it eventually.)
Yes, this chapter has only two sections, but it is absolutely wonderful. Probably the best one yet! We start “Part Two” tomorrow, which I think is a sign that the book is about to begin.