Yes, we have reached the penultimate chapter, so to speak. I’m actually afraid to proceed, because we are so close to the end and everything is happening. I know that this part is likely going to be more of the same: unbridled excitement and madness. And I don’t want to see poor Terri fall apart. Or Krystal, for that matter. I don’t know how the prospect of reading about Howard dying makes me feel. I mean, I know he was a lying, cheating, selfish, power-hungry, all-around disgusting human being, but somehow I grew attached to him, I don’t know.
But I have to be professional. I have to finish this. So I will take a deep breath. And onward we go!
This part has the strangest, most confusing opening Local Council Administration excerpt in the entire book, hands down.
Weaknesses of Voluntary Bodies
22.23 …The main weaknesses of such bodies are that they are hard to launch, liable to disintegrate…
It had me completely baffled at first, so I googled “voluntary bodies” and while I couldn’t find an exact definition I have ascertained that it is a group established by a private minority of people, or something similar. So it likely refers to the social services group set up to help Robbie, but it sounds like a clever double-meaning, because the first thing it brings to mind is Sukhvinder jumping off the bridge.
Many, many times had Colin Wall imagined the police coming to his door. They arrived, at last, at dusk on Sunday evening: a woman and a man, not to arrest Colin, but to look for his son.
Rowling, you do not disappoint.
Surprisingly, Colin is the most calm about the situation. As Rowling puts it, “Colin had rehearsed for calamity all his life. He was ready.” It’s brilliant, really.
Isolated above the little town, no news of the calamities had yet reached Hilltop House. Andrew’s mobile rang in the kitchen.
“‘Lo,” he said, his mouth full of toast.
“Andy, it’s Tessa Wall. Is Stu with you?”
“No,” he said. “Sorry.”
But he was not at all sorry that Fats was not with him.
It shocked me how bad things have gotten between them. It’s very strange, considering they grew up friends and Fats admitted to himself that Andrew was the person he was closest with and wouldn’t be able to survive without him. But that seems to be his motivation for treating Andrew coldly: resentment for leaving him.
Rowling does a great job portraying Andrew’s feelings as he realizes where Fats is and that he needs to reveal it to Tessa: The Cubby Hole.
Seemingly, there isn’t much to the rest of this section. Tessa drives Andrew to the Cubby Hole, Andrew goes in and finds Fats, tells him that Robbie has died and calls to Tessa to tell her that he found him. But unlike Water for Elephants, where even during the climax when people were dying, I never felt the danger and anxiety because Gruen wrote it all in her typical bland lifeless style, and viewed the characters purely from the outside, here the panic, anxiety, and excitement in the realization that the book has reached its climax bleed through every sentence of the section and every character, and we feel it with them. It’s actually rather cinematic, though, in that we don’t need to know their feelings. We can practically see it in their every action, their every word. Indeed, the section plays out like a film at this point. We can see every bit of it in our mind’s eye.
The section opens with Sukhvinder at the house of the dog-walker who saved her. Her parents arrive, Dr. Jawanda so angry that she actually knocks over a table and smashes an ornament in the house, seemingly without thinking!
And again I spoke too soon in critiquing Rowling:
At the hospital, they made her undress again, but this time her mother was with her in the curtained cubicle, and she realized her mistake too late when she saw the expression of horror on Parminder’s face.
“My God,” she said, grabbing Sukhvinder’s forearm. “My God. What have you done to yourself?”
Sukhvinder had no words, so she allowed herself to subside into tears and uncontrollable shaking, and Vikram shouted at everyone, including Parminder, to leave her alone, but also to damn well hurry up, and that her cut needed cleaning and she needed stitches and sedatives and X-rays…
It seems that they believe that they are cuts from objects in the river, though.
In a brilliant touch, Vikram’s incredulous disgust at Miles for asking Dr. Jawanda to help Howard switches to Miles’ incredulous disgust at Dr. Jawanda for refusing to help Howard. So often in life people do believe the exact opposite things and state differing opinions as if they were cold fact that no one could dispute.
And the scene remains with them in the waiting room. Shirley’s emotions and worries are portrayed very well. The section is just full of the same character details and little details as the rest of the book, but I have to make a strong criticism about one thing: For most of the book, the characters react exactly how they would expect them to and their thoughts are exactly as you would expect them to, and this is the case for Shirley. But this is not the case for Sukhvinder. I wrote about how I thought that given her fantasies about drowning, Sukhvinder was jumping into the river believing she would die but in the way she wanted to and knowing that people would regard her as a heroine who died to save a young boy or die trying so it would be a dream come true for her. But Rowling never gave us those feelings from her. And if she only had, then the crushing sadness of the fact that absolutely no good was accomplished (when Sukhvinder is saved and Robbie is not) would be all the more apparent. It strongly disappoints me that this is not included, because it would have made the book so much more stronger. All the same, I cannot help but be impressed at how Rowling manipulates the audience with her writing: in every sentence, we feel the sadness and blunt acceptance and sheer finality that the panic and anxiety of the last section has given way to.
And she closes with the most dark, nihilistic, depressing writing I’ve ever seen, in which we are given a look at exactly who each of us really are: just a young body in a cupboard dead, just an old body being cut open on the operating table, alive, but what does it mean when the world is so fickle and flimsy as that?
In the theater upstairs, Howard Mollison’s body overflowed the edges of the operating table. His chest was wide open, revealing the ruins of Vikram Jawanda’s handiwork. Nineteen people labored to repair the damage, while the machines to which Howard was connected made soft implacable noises, confirming that he continued to live.
And far below, in the bowels of the hospital, Robbie Weedon’s body lay frozen and white in the morgue. Nobody had accompanied him to the hospital, and nobody had visited him in his metal drawer.
Alfred Hitchcock said, “I enjoy playing my audience like a piano”. Rowling is an absolute master at this.
Now the scene is with Tessa driving Fats home. Both of these characters’ emotions are depicted perfectly. This is the most emotional, subtle, best-written scene in the entire book. Fats is getting the consequences for his so-called “authentic” actions now. He wanted to go out and have underage sex with a girl and be cool, and now he has to deal with the agonizing guilt that he caused a 3-year-old boy to die because of that.
“So you ran away,” said Tessa coldly, over his tears.
She had prayed that she would find him alive, but her strongest emotion was disgust. His tears did not soften her. She was used to men’s tears. Part of her was ashamed that he had not, after all, thrown himself into the river.
“Krystal told the police that you and she were in the bushes. You just left him to his own devices, did you?”
Fats was speechless. He could not believe her cruelty. Did she not understand the desolation roaring inside him, the horror, the sense of contagion?
Readers may find her to be unbelievably cruel, and perhaps she is. But as she tells Fats the story of his birth the attentive reader realizes (once they have gotten over the more audience reactions to the revelations that he may be a product of incest or rape and that Colin attempted suicide shortly after they adopted Fats because he thought he had killed him) what emotions she is going through, how disillusioned and nihilistic she has become. She is disappointed with herself because she wanted so desperately to raise Fats and is deeply disappointed with how he turned out. She considers leaving him at the Fields to embrace his new life as a parent and to apologize to Krystal, but thinks over all her decisions in life and decides they’ve all been bad ones, Fats is a lost cause, so she just decides to drive him home.
Rowling doesn’t spell out these things. They’re left for the clever reader to discern and I enjoyed and appreciated that.
Very noticeably, all throughout the three previous sections, we were never given the slightest hint as to what had happened to Krystal after Robbie’s death. This section answers that question immediately.
The police had picked up Krystal Weedon at last as she ran hopelessly along the riverbank on the very edge of Pagford, still calling her brother in a cracked voice. … Krystal had not noticed Fats melting away into the trees; he did not exist to her anymore.
Very heart-rending. And the story stays with her as she is taken home by the police. Terri’s reaction to the police at her house and Robbie not being with Krystal is in-character and the whole thing is portrayed well.
But then the scene randomly changes to Kay and Gaia without even any random break. Compared to what else is happening in the story, their problems are of very little consequence and it’s near impossible to care at all. The only thing of note is Gaia’s utter selfishness and childishness, but even if they move there’s only one chapter left and their moving is nothing compared to what has happened in the story at this point. So it was a good move by Rowling to have the Weedons’ plot come in (via Tessa’s call, meaning the story isn’t in chronological order at this point).
And then she switches the scene back to the Weedons.
Neighbors were coming out onto their doorsteps, a fascinated audience to Terri’s meltdown. Somehow the cause of it was transmitted through the watchers, from Terri’s incoherent shouts and the attitudes of the ominous police.
“The boy’s dead,” they told each other. Nobody stepped forward to comfort or calm. Terri Weedon had no friends.
This would be very effective writing to illustrate how Terri has isolated herself in her mistrust for everyone, but it isn’t actually true. She did trust Obbo and Obbo is her friend at least in her mind and he would likely fill that role if he were there, so it really just goes to demonstrate her horrible judgment.
We then (with absolutely no warning at all) switch to Kay and Gaia getting in the car to go to the Weedons’ to see what they can do. This only lasts two paragraphs, and then the scene changes to a 3rd-person perspective of Krystal.
But by the time they had reached the bypass, Krystal had found what she was looking for: a bag of heroin concealed in the airing cupboard; the second of two that Obbo had given Terri in payment for Tessa Wall’s watch. She took it, with Terri’s works, into the bathroom, the only room that had a lock on the door.
At first it seems that Krystal is going to give the drugs to the police out of anger and depression because they caused her to leave with Robbie, but then it’s clear she’s using it herself.
Robbie was dead, and it was her fault. In trying to save him, she had killed him.
It’s true, but I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing that Rowling directly and acknowledges it. I know what I said about not acknowledging the tragedy of Sukhvinder, but actually seeing her do that with Krystal makes me wonder. On one hand, it would seem that it was just another missed opportunity at drama if she acted like it was not intentional and she did not notice, but seeing here we think that maybe she should have left the audience to notice it and say it themselves. But people could accuse them of over-analyzing and seeing things into it that she didn’t intend, so it really is a difficult dilemma for Rowling, and it leads me to believe that she did recognize the observations I made about Sukhvinder’s fate and this was her way of compromising. But maybe I’m just overthinking everything, I don’t know.
But back to the story. Krystal injects the heroin, and right up until the final sentence of the chapter it seems like this is just showing Krystal tragically turning to drugs, thus entering the world of depression and madness that her mother inhabits, because of the ultimate tragedy which Rowling has just acknowledged: In trying to prevent Robbie from being harmed and rescuing him from Terri’s world, she caused his death. So now it would seem she has given up, much like Tessa.
But then one reads the final sentence and realizes that it was entirely different, that we didn’t understand what was actually going on. She had turned to the heroin out of depression over the ultimate tragedy, but her solution was more extreme:
By the time Kay and Gaia arrived, and the police decided to force their way in, Krystal Weedon had achieved her only ambition: she had joined her brother where nobody could part them.
It was to escape the world of depression and madness that her mother inhabits, and she succeeded. And in doing so, she created yet another casual vacancy in this topsy-turvy, crazed rollercoaster we call life.
(One chapter left. I must be strong.)