Archives for posts with tag: the casual vacancy

I like to consider myself a fair critic, fundamentally. Some may view me as being overly positive, and too lenient when it comes to ignoring a work’s faults. They may be right to an extent, but I like to think that at least in the last post, I was attempting to be kind to writers I felt had tried their best to create a worthy adaptation.

However, having viewed this second part, I’m going to apologize for giving this production the benefit of the doubt – This is awful beyond any redemption. It shows no respect for the work of literature it is trying to adapt and it is clear now that none of the changes are an attempt to make their vision of the work more cohesive or even to improve on the original story but simply an attempt to buck the established story and show they are willing to do something new, with no thought to the end product that is created or what the purpose of the original story was and how it conveyed that meaning.

Just as the first one did, this has a nice opening, easing our way back into Pagford, through an atmosphere of pure peacefulness and controlled civility surrounding the funeral of Barry Fairbrother. Obviously, this is in direct contrast to the farcical tone that whole section had in the book, and the “Umbrella” song is excluded.

That already is a red flag, since it signified the deep connection between Krystal and Barry, and how music can have a profound effect on people even if other people can’t understand or appreciate it. In these ways, it had an important role in the story, but it seems that Sarah Phelps may have only seen it as a method for the youth to affront the established authority and break the controlled, civilized atmosphere of Pagford. She may even have felt it was too blatant at this point in the story. In any case, the mood is disrupted (apart from the tension of Krystal and Robbie arriving in the church) again when Fats comes up to Andrew in the cemetery and whispers: “Samantha Mollison’s got the most amazing arse. Have you ever noticed that?…Got a massive boner in the church. What? It’s a ruddy nice phenomenon… Sex and death. Grief gives you the raging horn, both men and female, even Mary. You put the touch in her right now, you could do whatever you wanted. I mean, she’d probably be crying, but still you could do what you wanted.”

So… what new facts have we actually learned about Fats from all that to make him interesting? He’s a sex-obsessed, arrogant idiot teenager who believes he is smarter than he has while showing no respect for polite society.

Fascinating. At least the book did this in funnier ways, simpler, too, with bits like Fats deliberately angering the woman on the bus, that get the idea of who he is across quickly and in a semi-creative way. The one consolation I do have is that this second part does focus largely on the teenagers, who were at the heart of the story.

We do also get an effective contrast with Andrew’s un-amused reaction to Fats, simply responding “She’s my auntie” to show that even he is offended by Fats’ behavior, which is of course the first sign that their friendship is not to last.

The bit with Fats finding his mother’s watch and letting Krystal keep is kept as well, and it’s here that he actually explains his philosophy at least slightly, when he tells Krystal how he admires her for being authentic, and Krystal explains what she feels he meant in a very simplistic choice of words to her mother.

This is very small consolation. The real problem started for me at the end of the last part, actually, with the “Ghost of Barry Fairbrother”‘s annoyingly conversational tone. It is difficult to tolerate the slang and jest-filled nature of the test on its own, but then when the post is followed by an abrupt attack on Miles just for the sake of a cheap joke at the expense of the Mollisons who thought the Ghost was on their side, I simply felt nothing but anger and contempt for this production. That was the moment when it became something that was completely beyond redemption.

I don’t think I can detail all the reasons why this is wrong, wrong, wrong, and systematically ruins everything that made the book work well. So let’s go through this, very carefully:

  1. Obviously, television is a visual medium, while literature relies on the power of words. This is very evident when you see how much careful craft Rowling put into the words chosen for all four Parish council messages written by three separate teenagers. Andrew was taking the task very seriously. Even if it was an idle teenage prank to get back at his father, he didn’t want anyone to think so. Rowling describes his writing of the first post as “a… laborious process.
    He had been trying for a style that was as impersonal and impenetrable as possible; for the dispassionate tone of a broadsheet journalist.
    ” This is very evident when we see the first post, and how carefully chosen the words are, so that it would be seen as the type of writing a conscientious adult voter would write about an election: “Aspiring Parish Councillor Simon Price hopes to stand on a platform of cutting wasteful council spending. Mr. Price is certainly no stranger to keeping down costs, and should be able to give the council the benefit of his many useful contacts. He saves money at home by furnishing it with stolen goods – most recently a PC – and he is the go-to man for any cut-price printing jobs that may need doing for cash, once senior management has gone home, at the Harcourt-Walsh Printworks.”                                                                                                                                                                        From there, the quality deteriorates rapidly. Sukhvinder writes her post in the heat of anger, with next to no editing. You can detect the angry, sad and pathetic teenage girl in every line, as she pettily writes it from Barry’s point of view, as opposed to Andrew simply using his name (that he only thought of at the last minute): “Parish Councillor Dr. Parminder Jawanda, who pretends to be so keen on looking after the poor and needy of the area, has always had a secret motive. Until I died, she was in love with me, which she could barely hide whenever she laid eyes on me, and she would vote however I told her to, whenever there was a council meeting. Now that I am gone, she will be useless as a councillor, because she has lost her brain.”                                                                                                                                                             Barry Fairbrother’s son even guesses, based on analyzing these posts, that they were written by different people. But the style in which they are written becomes most important with Fats’ post, written in his pretentious pseudo-sesquipedalian style, complete with gratuitous title: “Fantasies of a Deputy Headmaster
    One of the men hoping to represent the community at Parish Council level is Colin Wall, Deputy Headmaster at Winterdown Comprehensive School. Voters might be interested to know that Wall, a strict disciplinarian, has a very unusual fantasy life. Mr. Wall is so frightened that a pupil might accuse him of inappropriate sexual behavior that he has often needed time off work to calm himself down again. Whether Mr. Wall has actually fondled a first year, the Ghost can only guess. The fervor of his feverish fantasies suggests that, even if he hasn’t, he would like to.
    ” And when his mother, Tessa, reads this, how does she react? “It wasn’t Mollison. Stuart wrote that, I know he did. Tessa recognized her son in every line. She was even astonished that Colin could not see it, that he had not connected the message with yesterday’s row, with hitting his son. He couldn’t even resist a bit of alliteration. He must have done all of them – Simon Price. Parminder. Tessa was horror-struck.” Here, Andrew writes his posts like some guy in a bar, nudging you and joking about the guy sitting in the back just to get into a quick fight for fun. Fats writes his post later on in the exact same conversational manner with no noteworthy differences in prose.
  2. That wasn’t the only respect in which the post shed serious light on Andrew’s character, though. We got a solid idea of his motivation for attacking his father. He wanted him to suffer, and he wanted him to get in big trouble because he was angered by years of putting up with his father’s abuse while his mother pretended he was a saint while being beaten. AND THERE IS NO FUCKING REASON IN THE WORLD FOR ANDREW TO RANDOMLY ATTACK MILES MOLLISON WHEN HE ISN’T WORKING FOR HOWARD, HAS NO DIRT ON HIM OR ANY REASON WHY SOMEONE WOULD TAKE HIM SERIOUSLY AND NOT VOTE FOR THE ASSHOLE, AND BARELY FUCKING KNOWS THOSE PEOPLE AT ALL. THIS SCRIPT MAKES NO SENSE. WHY IS ANYONE PUTTING UP WITH THIS SHIT? OH MY GOD JESUS CHRIST.
  3. We don’t even get a chance to see Simon’s full, abusive self in action. He has to restrain himself here because he’s told by the Mollisons instead of his wife, for no reason. So naturally he isn’t going to start swearing at them about it. Instead, when he gets home he only demonstrates the amount of anger that anyone in the world would when dealing with a situation like this. And we never even got a clear idea of Simon’s criminal dealings in the first place, as proper set-up for this! Andrew does hear him apparently subjecting Ruth to violence downstairs later, but this is after the post is published and it, for some reason, inspires him to attack Miles instead of writing something else about his father.
  4. Tessa asks Fats if he wrote the post when she has no reason to suspect him of this. The incident in which Simon humiliated Fats happened years ago and has never even been mentioned here, and it shows her as an unfair parent who isn’t capable of discerning her son’s voice in writing. Then later when they’re trying to dump the television set in the river, Simon figures out Andrew wrote the post with no explanation at all. He just randomly accuses him of doing it AND PROCEEDS TO DANGLE HIM OFF A FUCKING BRIDGE AND LEAVE HIM THERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT BASED OFF OF ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. SERIOUSLY, WHY IS ANYONE PUTTING UP WITH THIS WRITING WHEN THEY CALLED THE DARK KNIGHT RISES OUT ON THIS SAME FUCKING UNIMAGINATIVE “I CAN SEE IT IN YOUR EYES INTUITION” BULLSHIT IN 2012?

And from there, it actually manages to get worse. I couldn’t believe it either, but it does. Let’s get to that worthless second post where Andrew attacks Miles for no reason. It’s clear now the writers are actually aware of my complaints about Miles as a worthless, ineffectual non-character because that’s what Andrew’s post is all about. No complaints about his political ideas or shedding light on unethical acts committed by his family, he just calls him a mama’s boy. (The same things people have been saying about Marten Weiner on Mad Men for years, and what a shock, he’s still hanging around.)

Because Miles is the thin non-character the post correctly accuses him of being, he displays no real reaction to this other than to be a bit worried and confused, and fumble around awkwardly. He spends the rest of his time on screen eating marshmallows, being pushed around by his wife, and acting uncomfortable when his father is insulted in a political argument over dinner that he, of course, has no real involvement in despite being the one actually running for office. (And before it starts, we get that HILARIOUS scene where Dr. Jawanda insults Howard and Shirley and wouldn’t you know it, they’re standing right behind you? Because why couldn’t you start immediately slandering people you know will show up at any moment, right?)

The reason this argument starts over dinner is because in this version, Dr. Jawanda insults Howard’s weight and rants about his medical conditions over a small dinner that is being held for Tessa, Shirley, Howard, Miles, Samantha, Mary, and the Jawandas. So it’s something the voters would never hear about, in other words, so it has no real effect on Howard’s personal dignity or the judgment of those who may be on the edge about whether to get rid of the housing estate or not.

But the real purpose for this scene becomes clear. Since there’s no real incentive for Howard to be furious about it as something that actually mattered, it instead is transplanted to become the catalyst for a bizarre storyline where Howard experiences paranoia over the idea of his imminent death. Apparently feeling that Dr. Jawanda is right and he really should stop eating so much, he has a long extended nightmare where Barry shows up in his restaurant and says “You know what the real casual vacancy is? It’s the grave.” Howard then sees A GIANT ANIMATRONIC SKELETON GRIM REAPER SWINGING A SCYTHE IN THE SQUARE and wakes up terrified after seeing worms devouring his rotted cheese, and seeing worms come off his own face.

I am not making this up. I know what I said in the last post about the need to physically express what is going through people’s minds, but this is just completely over the top. There is no subtlety here at all. Did they really think that we couldn’t figure out what the “casual vacancy” represented, without being told? I get what they’re doing here, they’re trying to show very blatantly what the story is about so people won’t ask “what are we watching?” But it is mind-boggling the lack of credit they give to people’s intuition AND BASIC INTELLIGENCE! ALSO THIS IS A FUCKING CARTOON. HOW DO THEY EXPECT ANYONE TO TAKE A GIANT ANIMATRONIC SKELETON SWINGING A SCYTHE SERIOUSLY AT ALL.

But I will give them credit for one thing: They actually managed to make Fats more loathsome! I didn’t think it was possible, but here after a scene involving him and Krystal jerking off to each other behind a shelf in the public library, (Married… with Children did this on network television in 1996, “Bud Hits the Books”. You are not SO EDGY, BBC/HBO.) Fats casually zips up his pants and tells the librarian to “call my mum and complain”. He then proceeds to ignore his parents’ lecturing, smoke a joint in front of them, and talk about having sex with Krystal. GOD, I HATE THIS FUCKING KID SO MUCH. PUNCH HIM IN THE HEAD. But thankfully, Tessa does actually do some disciplinary work as a parent here, in the form of trying to sort him out and FLAT-OUT PULLING THE MARIJUANA OUT OF HIS MOUTH. I know that has absolutely nothing in common with her portrayal in the book and thus Rowling’s commentary on “casual parenting” since she is at least trying to do something, even if it isn’t working. I don’t care. That was awesome, and at least Fats’ motivation for slandering Colin has solid backing here. (Even though it’s written in the same style as Andrew’s post, as probably mentioned before.)

So the second part of our tale ends with Shirley cluelessly wishing Howard to look fondly to the future: “…the Ghost will disappear, we can get a good night’s sleep. Nighty-night.” And as her husband goes to bed thinking of the day he will never wake up, Andrew Price rolls up the covers in the Fields housing estate, both staring at the same portrait of the deceased Aubrey Fawley. The credits roll, and it is clear no one will sleep peacefully.

Least of all me, because I have another full hour of this garbage to review.

P.S. I didn’t find the place to mention it because it didn’t seem to be remotely importantly, but Gavin has been completely cut from this production. More importantly, Nana Cath is also absent. What is this story supposed to be about again?

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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!

PART SIX

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.

I

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.

II

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.

III

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.

IV

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.)