Well, I have only three parts left now. Shamefully I’ve found myself putting this off to delay finishing it, but no longer. So, without further hesitation, we will begin

PART FIVE

The opening “Local Council Administration” excerpt reads (I feel sorry for Rowling having to actually purchase a copy of this book and skim through it to find suitable opening excerpts) “Privilege”: “A person who has made a defamatory statement may claim privilege for it if he can show that he made it out without malice and in pursuit of a public duty.”

I can’t tell you how excited I was on reading that. Not only does it validate all my claims and annoyances with people ignoring this in the book, but the book itself is finally acknowledging this, and it means that the authors of the posts may be publicly revealed in this chapter. Which will really just make it more exciting. After all, think of all the game-changers and cliffhangers the previous part left us. Andrew is moving away, Krystal is going to get pregnant with Fats’s child, Kay has been relieved of duty as the Weedons’ social worker, Samantha’s shop is closing down, Gaia is planning on moving out, Gavin has ended his relationship with Kay and is going to pursue a relationship with Mary, and who will win the election, the results of which determine the closing of the addiction center and thus Terri’s newfound sobriety and whether or not the Fields shall be made a part of Yarvil?

I

NOW we get a proper, compelling opening. It’s really a very touching overview of Terri’s life and her experience with loss. I like that Rowling gives these backstories for her characters so that none of these seem like cardboard cut-outs or simplistic, which is something that it seems Rowling has always done her best to avoid.

And I think Terri’s feelings about Kay are portrayed very well, how she liked her but refuses to admit it even to herself.

I’m also glad Rowling gave us interactions between Terri and the original social worker, Mattie, so that she wouldn’t be just a pointless name. She tells Terri that the clinic will almost certainly be closed. But thankfully Terri has another option.

“…obviously, it will be different, but you can get your methadone from your GP instead,” said Mattie. She flipped over pages in the distended file that was the state’s record of Terri’s life. “You’re registered with Dr. Jawanda in Pagford, right? Pagford… why are you going all the way out there?”

We then get a scene with Krystal and Terri and their horrible, dysfunctional relationship. But both characters are very real. It annoys Terri that Krystal is playing the grown-up, but she is  the grown-up. Terri is barely taking anything seriously focusing on her immature emotions rather than what needs to be done, and Krystal knows this and is frustrated by it. So the clash between them is very realistic.

Krystal had been angry for days. The thing that Krystal had said about Obbo….
(“She said what?” he had laughed, incredulously, when they had met in the street, and Terri had muttered something about Krystal being upset.)
…he wouldn’t have done it. He couldn’t have.

I honestly thought that she would come around to believing Krystal eventually, and this aggravates me, particularly the lack of consequences of the rape, at least until Krystal becomes pregnant which can’t be much longer.

But I like that Rowling gives an overview of Terri’s relationship with Obbo to explain why she trusts him but does not trust all the people she really should.

In a rage, because they were low on food, and she was out of cigarettes, and Robbie was whining for his sister, she stormed into her daughter’s room and kicked her clothes around, searching for money or the odd, overlooked fag. Something clattered as she threw aside Krystal’s crumpled old rowing kit, and she saw the little plastic jewelry box, upended, with the rowing medal that Krystal had won, and Tessa Wall’s watch lying beneath it.

It’s clear at this point that Tessa’s watch is going to be very important. Believing that Nana Cath gave it to Krystal and angry at her daughter for keeping it a secret, Terri sells the watch to Obbo for twenty dollars. And what in the world is going to happen next with it? I really can’t imagine. And I’m glad Terri has the will-power to tell Obbo not to bring over drugs, but the stubborn refusal to go to Pagford which closes this section makes it clear that a lot does depend on the clinic staying open. Terri, Obbo, and Mattie are certain it will be closed, but it all depends on who wins the election and I think that’s what we’ll find out in the next section.

II

“Brace yourself,” teased Howard Mollison at midday on Saturday. “Mum’s about to post the results on the website. Want to wait and see it made public or shall I tell you now?”
Miles turned away instinctively from Samantha, who was sitting opposite him at the island in the middle of the kitchen. They were having a last coffee before she and Libby set off for the station and the concert in London. With the handset pressed tightly to his ear, he said, “Go on.”
“You won. Comfortably. Pretty much two to one over Wall.”

Yep, that’s it. No real build-up. We are just abruptly thrown into a scene with the Mollisons, and then we are given the results of the election. A lot of people might like Rowling’s style in this, but it honestly frustrates me. I would like build-up and anticipation for these things. I mean, bang, the addiction clinic is going to be shut down. Terri is going to lose her sobriety and lose Robbie. The Fields will be given to Yarvil. All that in just a matter of seconds. No build-up. And it’s disappointing to me that we never got any debates and speeches between Colin and Miles. I had anticipated that we would, and was looking forward to it, but they didn’t do campaigning in person. Also, it disappoints me how the results are just as un-surprising as the real life election results. (Did anyone not know three years away that Obama would win?) The Mollisons are a respectable family who have a history in politics, and Colin is just a weird, creepy vice principal.

Still, Rowling does a good job writing this scene and the details, as usually.

But then the story abruptly switches to Samantha. She’s about to go to the concert with Libby and she’s excited, but then a wrench is thrown into her plans. Libby comes in and gives Samantha the phone, saying her friend’s mother wants to talk to her.

This really is a comedy, I can tell now, and it’s very fun to read how the friend’s mother takes away every reason in Samantha’s alibi for going, and as usual the conversation feels real.

There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.

For crying out loud, her fears are only in her own mind. There’s no harm in telling her you wanted to see the band because you’ve gotten to like it yourself. Just look at all the “Twilight Mothers”.

But… Miles won the election. Yet there are two more parts and thirteen sections left in this part. This is the point where I have to realize the book wasn’t about the election at all. It was just about these people’s lives, and there are still a lot of unresolved plotlines relating to these characters and exciting things that have to happen in their lives before the book can end. This book was clearly building up to a resolution of the characters’ problems, not the election. Where do we go from here?

III

To Gavin, whose fate is still undetermined. Does Mary share his feelings? Will she be willing to start a relationship with him? It’s hard to tell. The text states that “she had been oddly flustered when he had turned up“, but that might have just been because she wasn’t expecting to see him. Who knows? Gavin actually takes it as a genuine sign that she has feelings for him. (Note: I originally did not know what “the Smithy” is, but upon making a Google search, I have concluded that it is a name for Gavin’s house.)

But then the story abruptly switches to Andrew. He hasn’t left for Reading just yet, and he’s getting ready to serve at Howard’s birthday party. I like that Rowling gave us insight into his feelings about writing the post now, as I wasn’t sure about them:

Andrew’s feelings about what he had done to his father changed almost hourly. Sometimes the guilt would bear down on him, tainting everything, but then it would melt away, leaving him glorying in his secret triumph. Tonight, the thought of it gave extra heat to the excitement burning beneath Andrew’s thin white shirt, an additional tingle to the gooseflesh caused by the rush of evening air as he sped, on Simon’s racing bike, down the hill into town.

His feelings upon learning of Gaia’s break-up with Marco surprised me. I had forgotten that Gaia’s father lived in Reading, so naturally his reaction was the exact opposite of what I expected.

This section is extremely long. The scene describing Howard’s party just goes on and on for a full ten pages, and I felt like Rowling was deliberately trying to foil people’s attempts to review her book like this. So I’ll just summarize it:

  1. As usual, there are a lot of character details. As usual, Rowling does a very good job portraying the way the characters interact. As usual, it feels like it’s naturally playing out in front of us.
  2. We meet Howard and Shirley’s daughter, Patricia. This one surprised me. I thought she would remain an unseen character. But no. The reason she is a black sheep in the family is that she is a lesbian. And one who is very resentful of her parents’ homophobia. She is a very well realized character, too.
  3. Furthering of Gavin’s relationship plot. Although he tries to keep it a secret, Gaia exposes him in front of Shirley, so everyone will know by tomorrow. He also learns that Mary is considering leaving for Liverpool. Gavin will need to reveal his love quickly. I hope he has the courage to and does it right. (I think Rowling chose Howard’s favorite song deliberately in search of lyrics that she could find lyrics that reflected Gavin’s inner thoughts.)
  4. Samantha’s flagrant sexual attraction to Andrew, and awkward conversation with him. Forget Colin, he’s only a mental pedophile.

The party scene basically ends with Andrew, Gaia, and Sukhvinder drunk in the kitchen after sneaking off and drinking vodka, because it sticks with their storyline from that point on. Bizarrely enough Fats shows up… through the window. ?????????? He and Fats go outside to smoke, where bizarrely enough, Patricia gives them cigarettes and lights them for them. ????????????

I like the insight we get into Fats that really makes him a more likable character. When Gaia confronts him over bullying Sukhvinder, he does not mock her or insult her but instead tells her “I never said there was anything wrong with [being a lesbian]. It’s only jokes”.

“Wonder what the Ghost’ll say next?” Fats asked, with a sidelong glance at Andrew.
“Probably stop now the election’s over,” muttered Andrew.
“Oh, I dunno,” said Fats. “If there’s stuff old Barry’s Ghost is still pissed off about….”
He knew that he was making Andrew anxious and he was glad of it. Andrew was spending all his time at his poxy job these days and he would soon be moving. Fats did not owe Andrew anything. True authenticity could not exist alongside guilt and obligation.

He’s making me anxious, too. I want Fats’ post attacking Colin to be the end. The election is over, and the council posts storyline has run its course. (And refer to my original definition of “authenticity”: “Be an asshole and do whatever the fuck you want.”)

But then Rowling throws us a shocker out of nowhere:

“Old Maureen and my father singing along together. Arm in arm.” Patricia took a final fierce drag on her cigarette and threw the end down, grinding it beneath her heel. “I walked in on her blowing him when I was twelve,” she said. “And he gave me a fiver not to tell my mother.”

WHAT WHAT WHAT? This this changes the way I look at both Howard and his relationship with both Maureen and Shirley completely and she just throws it at us just like that! I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

He could not see where she was at first: then he spotted them. Gaia and Fats were locked together ten yards away from the door, leaning up against the railings, bodies pressed tight against each other, tongues working in each other’s mouths.

NO NO WHAT THE YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING!!!!!!

[Samantha’s] mouth was chapped and warm, and her breasts were huge, pressed against [Andrew’s] chest; her back was as broad as his-
“What the fuck?”

What the fuck?

Andrew was slumped against the draining board and Samantha was being dragged out of the kitchen by a big man with short graying hair.

This this this is just too much this is all so insane. Oh my god oh my so many things were just resolved and changed in just a fraction of a second before we have time to figure out what’s happening. After all that time Gaia ended up with Fats instead of Andrew, Samantha is a pedophile and Miles caught her in the act, and Howard had and is probably having an affair with Maureen. It’s like Rowling is playing a game: “What’s the most insane, shocking thing I’ll throw at them next?” WHAT’S THE MOST INSANE, SHOCKING THING SHE’LL THROW AT US NEXT?!!!!! I’m sorry I ever doubted the critics who said this was “endlessly surprising”. Rowling hasn’t lost her touch. She isn’t going soft with her age. But I wish she had. I mean, I do like it, but after I’ve had some time to relax and appreciate it.

I love how Andrew’s tired, drunken, confused thought process is portrayed. He’s in the same state of shock as the readers, only much, much worse, since it’s actually really happening to him. It really is convincing, and even the twists, shocking as they are, aren’t unbelievable.

And again I notice that as he goes up the hill and enters the kitchen and finds Simon there unable to sleep, we feel his emotions. We don’t need it to be stated how Andrew feels and the way things feel, because it’s all portrayed convincingly enough that we feel the same way.

For as much as people complained about how the book being depressing, this section ends in a very nice, happy way:
Shivering slightly, feeling old and shell-shocked, and immensely guilty, Andrew wanted to give his father something to make up for what he had done. It was time to redress balances and claim Simon as an ally. They were a family. They had to move together. Perhaps it could be better, somewhere else.
“I’ve got something for you,” he said. “Come through here. Found out how to do it at school…”
And he led the way to the computer.

I’d complain about not wanting another post but I can’t help but be overcome by the sheer joy of it. Ahhhhh.

IV

And the joy actually carries into the next section, too. It really is beautiful writing, and I read it in bed early in the morning just after I woke up*, which accentuated its quality to me.

The narrative goes from character-to-character, showing where they are and what they are doing: Miles doesn’t know what to think about finding his wife embracing a sixteen-year-old and what to do, while Colin is just a poor victim of his OCD, believing he killed Barry for no discernible reason. All are firmly in-character, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it shows a bit of where the characters are going. It ends with Dr. Jawanda, who the narrative remains with for the rest of the section. She is actually planning to resign the council, and I hope she doesn’t, because that would constitute another casual vacancy and I’m not ready for another election.

The narrative provides a great deal of insight into her, and makes her very sympathetic. Then there is a thankfully uninterrupted conversation between her and Sukhvinder where Sukhvinder is trying to get out of going to work, and surprisingly, given her earlier anger at her wanting a job, forces her to go because at this point she doesn’t want the Mollisons to have anything else to criticize the Jawandas for.

A lot of readers may hate Dr. Jawanda for her treatment of Sukhvinder, but this section does a lot to humanize her and I like how it closes with her actually realizing her faults as a parent and wanting to change them.

*I read II in a grocery store, from a copy on the shelf. It was right there, so why not kill two birds with one stone?

IV

And the joy actually carries into the next section, too. It really is beautiful writing, and I read it in bed early in the morning just after I woke up, which accentuated its quality to me.

The narrative goes from character-to-character, showing where they are and what they are doing: Miles doesn’t know what to think about finding his wife embracing a sixteen-year-old and what to do, while Colin is just a poor victim of his OCD, believing he killed Barry for no discernible reason. All are firmly in-character, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it shows a bit of where the characters are going. It ends with Dr. Jawanda, who the narrative remains with for the rest of the section. She is actually planning to resign the council, and I hope she doesn’t, because that would constitute another casual vacancy and I’m not ready for another election.

The narrative provides a great deal of insight into her, and makes her very sympathetic. Then there is a thankfully uninterrupted conversation between her and Sukhvinder where Sukhvinder is trying to get out of going to work, and surprisingly, given her earlier anger at her wanting a job, forces her to go because at this point she doesn’t want the Mollisons to have anything else to criticize the Jawandas for.

A lot of readers may hate Dr. Jawanda for her treatment of Sukhvinder, but this section does a lot to humanize her and I like how it closes with her actually realizing her faults as a parent and wanting to change them.

After Sukhvinder walked back to the house Parminder felt guilty. She almost called her daughter back, but instead she made a mental note that she must try and find time to sit down with her and talk to her without arguing.

V

Now we are back with Krystal coming home from her friend’s house.

A lot of authors only include the absolute essentials in writing. They just write the plot and describe the events as they unfold. Rowling is not one of those authors — there are so many subtle details that most people wouldn’t even think about that Rowling includes in this section. In fact, that’s really all the section is until Krystal gets home. And I like it because they come before the scene that we become invested in, and thus we have nothing to distract us from that scene.

Then it occurred to her that Robbie was not there. She pounded up the stairs, shouting for him.
“‘M’ere,” she heard him say, from behind her own closed bedroom door.
When she shouldered it open, she saw Robbie standing there, naked. Behind him, scratching his bare chest, lying on her own mattress, was Obbo.
“All righ’, Krys?” he said, grinning.

OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK THIS IS INSANE Obbo is absolute scum. Did he actually rape Robbie? Is he bisexual? Of course Krystal is too terrified of Obbo now to say a word to him so she just grabs Robbie and goes downstairs. And things just get worse. She discovers that Obbo has given bags of hashish to Terri — and Krystal knows her mother could be sent to prison for having them. (Although you’d think she would be sent to prison for using the other drugs, too. I suppose if she were caught with them Terri would get a much shorter sentence, in the local jail.)

It becomes very clear at this point that Krystal is really the only sane, responsible person in her world. Barry is dead, Nana Cath is dead, Kay is gone, and poor Krystal has to deal with the insanity that is her life and try to stop the worst from coming to the worst, but it’s becoming impossible for her to succeed. To be honest, I don’t think Terri losing Robbie is such a bad thing at this point. Getting out of this environment is honestly the best thing for him, and I hope the novel ends with Krystal somehow managing to adopt him or at least with him in a good home. But I’m not sure that this novel will have a happy ending. There’s just no predicting Rowling, though.

VI

The story now goes to Shirley. The section feels like a rerun at first, character details, Shirley going to the computer out of habit, and we get an utterly gratuitous flashback to Howard and Shirley realizing Patricia had left, but at least it doesn’t interrupt any scene between the characters that we are meant to be invested in.

But then the monotony comes to an abrupt end as Shirley discovers the new Ghost_of_Barry_Fairbrother post father and son Price have uploaded onto the website:

Howard Mollison, First Citizen of Pagford, and long-standing resident Maureen Lowe have been more than business partners for many years. It is common knowledge that Maureen holds regular tastings of Howard’s finest salami. The only person who appears not to be in on the secret is Shirley, Howard’s wife.

I know I said so much about how I wanted the posts to end with the attack on Colin, but this feels like the right one to end with. A return to the first post, the original author apologizing for the first post by writing it with the subject of the first post.

And until this moment Shirley believed up until this moment that “the_Ghost_of_Barry_Fairbrother” was on her side, attacking anti-Fielders. She had to realize eventually that the posts aren’t political, they’re just designed to attack individuals, regardless of who they are. And what a crushing blow to have your best friend stab you in the back like that. Just perfect.

Rowling does a great job portraying Shirley’s reaction. The prose is basically her erratic thoughts.

Surprisingly she runs and wakes up Howard to tell him.

“What?” he said, his face shielded.
“You and Maureen, having an affair.”
“Where’s he get that from?”
No denial, no outrage, no scathing laughter. Merely a cautious request for a source.
Ever afterwards, Shirley would remember this moment as a death; a life truly ended.

This is humiliating for me in retrospect, considering how many times I said how Howard and Shirley’s was the only perfect relationship in the book. And that’s one complaint I do make, that it seems like Rowling noticed their relationship had been perfect for most of the book, so decided to quickly remedy that by adding the affair storyline when she was all but through with the book. I think it would be proper to have just one happy couple, one flawless marriage, especially since it’s one that’s clearly existed for decades.

But I have to admit Rowling mainly does a good job depicting Shirley’s reaction. Going to tell Howard wouldn’t be my first response, but considering she trusted him so deeply that she doubted the post, it makes sense. I’m not sure about Howard’s response, though; you’d think he would try to act a little more shocked and outraged.

VII

We open with Krystal at a bus stop with Robbie.

She was not sure she had enough money for the fare, but she was determined to get to Pagford. Nana Cath was gone, Mr. Fairbrother was gone, but Fats Wall was there, and she needed to make a baby.

Just in case the first time didn’t work. I honestly thought she was already pregnant, and it disappoints me that that explosive change and drama is going to wait until later.

She calls Fats and he reluctantly agrees to meet her there. This section is less than two pages long, and there are only two other things of note:

  1. I  like that Rowling is depicting the consequences of Fats’ lifestyle, first by stating in IV how numb his mouth is, and here stating how tired he is from staying up all night, to the point that he wanted to go to bed in the afternoon.
  2. The conversation between Colin and Tessa is just as bizarre as Fats says, and it is hilarious (though I hope that Tessa did eventually convince Colin that he did not kill Barry).

VIII

I was very eager to see the consequences of Miles’ discovery of Samantha kissing Andrew, and Rowling doesn’t disappoint. The section opens with Samantha forced to leave her hiding place to go to the bathroom, and it describes her taking a shower and all she can to delay having to go out and find Miles. It’s written very realistically and in a very in-the-moment way.

Samantha’s feelings are portrayed well, and the only real disappointment to me is that it skips right from her about to leave the bathroom to “Miles was sitting in the kitchen when she entered“. No, no, no, describe Samantha walking down the hall, nervously, building up the tension gradually until we reach this moment. We had been going through Samantha’s experience with her, looking at this through her eyes, and we still do afterwards. So why does she slip up here?

But afterwards she does a good job building up the tension and creating the talk between Miles and Samantha, though.

“Last night,” said Miles, “at my father’s birthday party, I came to look for you, and I found you snogging a sixteen-year-”
“Sixteen-year-old, yes,” said Samantha. “Legal. One good thing.”

What? How can it possibly be legal? No, I checked. The legal age of adulthood in England is 18. In fact, the driving age limit is 17!

But….. oh, this is it. The shit has hit the fan now. This is the climax of Miles and Samantha’s relationship.

“What the hell’s going on with you?” said Miles.
“I’m…unhappy,” said Samantha.
“Why?” asked Miles, but then he added quickly, “Is it the shop? Is it that?”
“A bit,” said Samantha. “But I hate living in Pagford. I hate living on top of your parents. And sometimes,” she said slowly, “I hate waking up next to you.”

I was very surprised that Samantha actually tells Miles she isn’t sure whether or not she’s in love with him and admits to being glad he was alive on the day she heard of Barry Fairbrother’s death. It seemed that she was 100% discontented and disliking him, but then we realize that she had to have been attracted to him at one point. And Rowling sneakily shows us the real issue. Samantha lusted after Miles when he was a young man just as she lusts after Andrew and the boy band member now. But when he got older, she couldn’t stand him and wants to have a new man, a young man. And probably if she married Andrew or the boy band member she would grow tired of them as they lost their youth and lust after young men again. Many readers will probably declare her a pedophile as I previously did and unanimously declare their disgust for her, but to be honest I just think it’s unfortunate that she was born as a woman. This is basically the way practically every man thinks, and society doesn’t care. They’re allowed to be this way. Just think of it. When have you ever seen an old man marry a woman remotely close to his own age or have a relationship with a woman close to his age? When women are no longer young, a great majority of men simply lose their attraction for them and start relationships with young women, and they’re allowed to. Nobody cares. But when a woman does the same thing she’s a disgusting, despicable pedophile. Then again, Samantha was lusting after a 16-year-old, but the point still stands.

But the thing that really shocked me was how polite Samantha was in explaining her feelings to him. In fact, it’s Miles who is rude and drives her to the breaking point.

“-well, I meant what I said – you’re not fit to fill his shoes!”
“What?” he said, and his chair fell over as he jumped to his feet, while Samantha strode to the kitchen door.
“You heard me,” she shouted. “Like my letter said, Miles, you’re not fit to fill Barry Fairbrother’s shoes. He was sincere.”

This was a shocker. I mean, I know she didn’t think Miles was fit to take the seat, but Samantha didn’t seem to have any interest in politics so I wouldn’t expect her to talk this away about Barry! In fact, it honestly seems out-of-character for her when you consider her boredom and nonchalance during all the scenes where politics are discussed.

The look on his face unnerved her. Out in the hall, she slipped on clogs, the first pair of shoes she could find, and was through the front door before he could catch up.

Both Mollison marriages have been destroyed. Another relationship has come to an end. And unlike Gavin, this cannot end well for Samantha, and it will probably end up with her in prison. And Miles? Oh, he has the world. Unlike Samantha, he can have all the young ladies he wants.

IX

Now we are with Krystal on the bus into Pagford with Robbie. I like how we are shown more of Krystal’s mothering instincts toward Robbie and her dream of taking care of him and the baby she plans to have.

Then we cut to Fats waiting for her, who is trying to avoid Andrew seeing him. I get that he’s resentful towards Andrew for leaving, but when he’s admitted to himself that Andrew is his closest friend, you’d think he would try to cherish the last time he can have with him. It just seems very strange to me.

Rowling devotes so much time to the characters. She doesn’t have Fats just ignore the presence of Robbie so the plot with him and Krystal can go wherever it’s going. She portrays his thoughts and discomfort with having Robbie there.

At last, when Krystal had handed her brother the crisps, she said to Fats, “Where’ll we go?”
Surely, he thought, she could not mean that they were going to shag. Not with the boy there. He had had some idea of taking her to the Cubby Hole: it was private, and it would be a final desecration of his and Andrew’s friendship; he owed nothing to anyone, anymore. But he balked at the idea of fucking in front of a three-year-old.

I really like how Rowling portrays Fats and Krystal’s relationship. They are two teenagers who are a couple because they both feel it’s time to have a boyfriend/girlfriend. They don’t have any real attraction towards each other, and they don’t have any clue what to do when they’re together expect to have sex in any random place they can think of on the spur of the moment. I also like the brief revelation that Fats had realized Andrew’s crush on Gaia.

We get some introspection by Krystal about considering going to visit Kay at her house, but I don’t know how well this could turn out or if Krystal could even help them. Fats is reluctant to have sex with Krystal where Robbie can see, but he decides “Dane Tully would do it. Pikey Pritchard would do it. Cubby, not in a million years.” Yes, I think if Dane Tully and Pikey Pritchard jumped off a bridge, Fats would do it, too. Which is of course the exact opposite of inauthenticity. Haven’t quite perfected the art yet, Fats.

Krystal slipped and slid down the bank toward the patch of undergrowth, hoping that Fats was not going to make any difficulties about doing it with a condom.

That’s how this section ends, and it’s clear at this point that Krystal’s bizarre scheme will come to fruition in the last two parts, and this really makes me anxious. That isn’t enough time for her to give birth, and this doesn’t seem like the kind of story that can have a happy ending. Krystal is going to have a miscarriage, Obbo is going to kill Terri or something, maybe she’ll overdose. I don’t know. Somebody’s going to die, horrible things are going to happen. And I can’t stand knowing this and having to wait for it.

X

We are now in Gavin’s third-person POV. I like the bit of continuity in how he tries to avoid Samantha after their awkward, somewhat rude conversation in III. He is going to see Mary, planning on how to reveal his feelings towards her.

Still keeping my options open, he thought, as he crossed the bridge on foot. There was a small boy sitting by himself on a bench, eating sweets, below him. I don’t have to say anything….I’ll play it by ear….

The small boy is Robbie. In an interesting detail, he is in the same area as Krystal, Fats, and Robbie at the same time. It’s a strange way of leading into the next section, but I like it and wish Rowling had used it more often. Even more strangely, the narrative abruptly cuts to Gavin at Mary’s house with Mary having just answered the door and inviting him in.

The narrative states that she “seemed pleased to see him” and she informs Gavin that one of her relatives has suggested she move back to Liverpool. These factors bode well for Gavin’s chances with her, but the reason behind her strong desire to stay in Pagford does not: She can’t stand to leave Barry’s grave. And Rowling does a good job portraying Gavin’s emotions spiraling up and downwards, as well as the brief look into Gavin’s thought process detailing his dislike for burial. I strongly suspect that this and Dr. Jawanda’s feelings against burial are Rowling’s own, and I can definitely see why people choose cremation now.

Gavin and Mary discuss Miles’ win and how it means everything Barry fought for is now ruined, and Mary can’t help but express her resentment towards her dead husband
(including mentioning Krystal’s refusal to contribute to Barry’s wreath, despite everyone else on the rowing team doing it, which was strange to me when I first heard it. Krystal is clearly saddened by Barry’s death. So why didn’t she contribute?).

“Mary,” said Gavin, leaving his chair, moving to her side (on the rope bridge now, with a sense of mingled panic and anticipation), “look…it’s really early…I mean, it’s far too soon…but you’ll meet someone else.”
“At forty,” sobbed Mary, “with four children…”
“Plenty of men,” he began, but that was no good; he would rather she did not think she had too many options. “The right man,” he corrected himself, “won’t care that you’ve got kids. Anyway, they’re such nice kids…anyone would be glad to take them on.”
“Oh, Gavin, you’re so sweet,” she said, dabbing her eyes again.

So, yes, it’s all going unbelievably well for Gavin. His prospects for marrying Mary are unbelievably high, and then he decides to ruin it all by blurting out “Mary, I think I’m in love with you.”

Just blurting it out at this point creates obvious resentment from her who does not think he realizes the state she’s in now. So he finds it necessary to abruptly leave, his chances with her completely ruined.

I know he told her because he was afraid someone else would tell her first if he didn’t, but it would be better if they did. He had every chance, every likelihood that she would eventually begin a relationship with him, and in his idiotic impatience he said it at the worst possible moment: when she’s recently widowed. If he had only let it develop naturally, he might have ended up with her. Then again, maybe not, considering Gavin believes and she almost did start to say, “even if I weren’t grieving” but this might have just been an excuse. She was willing to marry again some day, and she liked Gavin. The more he was there with her the closer they would grow over the years and eventually she might accept a proposal from him. Who knows? In any case, it’s all flushed down the toilet now. In one idiotic instant, their story ends happily for no one.

XI

And now we are back with Howard and Shirley, another relationship that is on the brink of collapse. Shirley is very resentful towards her husband and Maureen, though Howard now is making a larger effort to deny the affair.

I’m very eager to see what Shirley is going to do about it. She’s trying to prevent Howard and Maureen from communicating, but after leaving to go to lunch with her granddaughter she realizes she isn’t going to be able to stop this and she’s just given them the perfect opportunity to talk. (Howard is staying at home sick in bed. I’m not sure whether he’s faking it because he doesn’t want people to prod him about the post at the restaurant or if it’s genuine.)

And when Shirley gets to the restaurant, she doesn’t confront Maureen, she just has a casual, polite conversation with her. Rowling does a great job writing her emotions about the revelation of the affair, but I can’t figure out, what in the next two parts, she is going to do about it.

But that’s forgotten for now, because Maureen revealed a surprising bit of information: Gaia and Sukhvinder did not come to work. Gaia likely because she can’t face Andrew after kissing Fats, and Sukhvinder likely because she can’t face Gaia due to being angry over her kissing Fats. Indeed Andrew nearly left because he was afraid he would get fired for kissing Samantha. I think his inner thoughts about this are done well.

But the end of the section is very strange.

He went to fetch a napkin for Lexie and almost collided with his boss’s wife, who was standing behind the counter, holding his EpiPen.
“Howard wanted me to check something,” Shirley told him. “And this needle shouldn’t be kept in here. I’ll put it in the back.”

But why is this important enough to bother mentioning? It seems that Shirley doesn’t know about the incident with Samantha and Andrew, so she can’t be angry at him. And Howard didn’t tell her to check anything, as far as we know. And if he had, wouldn’t she say what it was? Is she going to use it to poison Howard or something? I mean, I know it’s insane, but it’s the only real reason for including that I can think of, and it seems like the only option for Shirley. But I… I don’t know.

XII

I had thought that the scene with Krystal and Fats by the canal had ended with IX, but surprisingly we’re back with them. It seems designed so that Rowling can do a very strange thing: write a section from the 3rd-person POV of the three-and-a-half-year-old Robbie.

Considering how developmentally behind and oblivious he has been shown to be, this would seem to be impossible. Rowling manages it mainly by portraying his emotions simplistically and childishly. The prose is a proper wording of the emotions Robbie experiences but could never express as eloquently. But it still feels like Robbie has aged suddenly, considering how oblivious he was in his first appearance. He seems too intelligent and aware of his surroundings, capable of rational thought.

And there’s another strange thing Rowling does: First Gavin walks past Robbie down the road, and Rowling goes out of her way to include a rationale of why in parentheses. (We get a good sense of how deeply he’s ruined his own life. He has basically no one now, and you feel sorry for him.) And then Samantha walks by across the football field, watched by Robbie, and we get some of her emotions and thoughts she’s going through. And then we get Shirley walking by and she is apparently going to use the needle to trigger some sort of attack in Howard, and then likely confront him over the affair and order him out. (Also, she spots Krystal and Fats having sex and is disgusted.)

This all happens between Robbie wandering around searching for water and Krystal, and it was obviously written to portray all of these characters’ emotions, which are written very well as usual, and to indulge her own cleverness in writing all the characters to be going by. But it comes off as very strange that she uses the 3-and-a-half-year-old child as the POV character for it. It’s very surreal and as much as I like seeing what all the characters are going through, I think it could’ve been skipped.

XIII

And now we switch to the third-person POV of Sukhvinder. Where did she go when she cut work? Just randomly wandering around Pagford.

She had waited for a while at the bus stop where you could catch a bus into Yarvil, but then she had spotted Shirley and Lexie Mollison coming down the road, and dived out of sight.

All right, Rowling is just having fun playing with the world she’s created at this point. But we do get interesting insight into why Sukhvinder didn’t go to work. Because she can’t face Gaia, yes, but her feelings about her kissing Fats are different from how I thought they were, yet they make perfect sense, and when you think about it, yes, that’s exactly what her feelings would be, and it’s nice to have an author who does think about it.

Gaia’s betrayal had been brutal and unexpected. Pulling Fats Wall…he would drop Krystal now that he had Gaia. Any boy would drop any girl for Gaia, she knew that. But she could not bear to go to work and hear her one ally trying to tell her that Fats was all right, really.

However, Gaia leaves her three texts which send a heavy implication to her that she only did it because she was drunk and doesn’t even remember it, yet she still is unwilling to go work and speak to Gaia, and randomly wants to spend her hard-earned cash on a hotel or flat: just some quiet place where she can stay and slit her wrists.
Her thought process is very strange and doesn’t make sense to me.

But then she crosses the bridge, so we know that she is in the scene with Krystal and Robbie. And sure enough she sees Krystal and Fats looking for Robbie and hides from them.

I really like this style and how cleverly it interwines the characters. I think it’s very clever, and I wish Rowling had used it more often to synch up the events together.

But then……

Sukhvinder caught sight of something in the river below.
Her hands were already on the hot stone ledge before she had thought about what she was doing, and then she had hoisted herself onto the edge of the bridge; she yelled, “He’s in the river, Krys!” and dropped, feetfirst, into the water. Her leg was sliced open by a broken computer monitor as she was pulled under by the current.

OH MY FUCKING GOD THIS ALL HAPPENED SO QUICKLY! Rowling was foreshadowing this with Sukhvinder’s dream of drowning. Sukhvinder is going to die, Robbie is going to be taken away and given to a foster family over this if he doesn’t drown!

XIV

And the madness just continues! Shirley is looking for Howard TO MURDER HIM WITH THE NEEDLE, but she can’t find him in the house so she assumes he has gone to the restaurant.

She half ran into the sitting room, intending to telephone the Copper Kettle. Howard was lying on the carpet in his pajamas.
His face was purple and his eyes were popping. A faint wheezing noise came from his lips. One hand was clutching feebly at his chest. His pajama top had ridden up. Shirley could see the very patch of scabbed raw skin where she had planned to plunge the needle.

And her first instinct is to run and hide the needle instead of GOING TO CALL AN AMBULANCE BECAUSE HER HUSBAND IS DYING.

She ran back into the sitting room, seized the telephone receiver and dialed 999.
“Pagford? This is for Orrbank Cottage, isn’t it? There’s one on the way.”
“Oh, thank you, thank God,” said Shirley, and she had almost hung up when she realized what she had said and screamed, “no, no, not Orrbank Cottage…”
But the operator had gone and she had to dial again. She was panicking so much that she dropped the receiver. On the carpet beside her, Howard’s wheezing was becoming fainter and fainter.
“Not Orrbank Cottage,” she shouted. “Thirty-six Evertree Crescent, Pagford – my husband’s having a heart attack…”

Oh my fucking lord this is completely insane.

XV

The next section picks up directly from the last, with Miles, informed of the news, running to Dr. Jawanda’s door to try to get her to help. She tells him she can’t because she has been suspended from work. It doesn’t seem like a callous act of revenge, it seems to be just her commitment to the rules. If it’s the former, it isn’t very smart, since Howard would likely do his best to get her back her job and fix the trouble he created for her.

I love how in this time of panic all personal grudges and issues are completely forgotten. Samantha comes by and Miles acts like he forgot about the kitchen incident and finding her kissing Andrew and begins treating her exactly as he would have the day before.

And the scene then abruptly changes to two passersby taking care of Sukhvinder and Robbie who are lying on the riverbank.

“No good,” said the man, who had worked on Robbie’s little body for twenty minutes. “He’s gone.”
Sukhvinder wailed, and slumped to the cold wet ground, shaking furiously as the sound of the siren reached them, too late.

I don’t know what to say. It’s just so…. sad. And yet it’s very clever writing. Sukhvinder spent every waking moment of her life yearning for death, her greatest desire to drown in particular, and she jumped into the river likely expecting she might not live and would die in a noble sacrifice. But she survived and the one who had yet begun to live, who did not intend to drown, did not even understand the concept of death, did not. And now Terri has lost the only thing that was keeping her from losing herself to drugs again. Now she has lost it all.

Considering all this and the fact that the part ends with Maureen at the door of the restaurant savoring the excitement of a disaster she has yet to learn the details of, it’s easy to see why people called this book cynical. But Rowling’s optimism for humankind is incredible. She clearly believes that in times of crisis people will simply forget their personal problems and do the best they can to help others out of pure selflessness. And yet, she reminds us, human nature is immensely mutable.

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