Blogging The Casual Vacancy: "Olden Days"

I continue my efforts to blog my reactions to The Casual Vacancy.

Part One is here.

Of course now that I’m deeper into it I figure out that the next section for my consideration, “Olden Days,” looks like it’s still “Part One,” because when it ends, “Part Two” begins. Meh, I’m not going to try to explain.

I will tell you this, though.  I am much further along than this and finally had to force myself to stop reading in order to write this. This is a compelling book. The views of the characters are ruthless, brutal and honest.  Jo doesn’t make any attempt to make them sympathetic.  The deeper we get into the book, the more sympathetic they become, but that’s despite their flaws, despite the harsh reality of their lives and their actions.  And these are very deliberate choices she’s making. I still am really fascinated to see where she goes with this, what kind of ending we’re going to have.

In my UK edition “Olden Days” starts on page 51 with another definition:


12.43  As against trespassers (who, in principle, must take other people’s premises and their occupiers as they find them)…

Charles Arnold-Baker
Local Council Administration
Seventh Edition

This is where to bail out if you haven’t read it and/or don’t want to read farther. If so, see you next post when I will probably be talking about something else!



This is where to bail out if you haven’t read it and/or don’t want to read farther. If so, see you next post when I will probably be talking about something else!

Still here? Okay, then!

The title refers to the vacancy on the Parish Council that is now “casually” vacant with the death of Barry Fairbrother.  And, oh-ho! There are local politics involved. Jo (as author) tells us plain and simple that “this amicably appointed body was currently in a state of civil war.” And she drops back to give a bit of historical perspective.

Pagford, the village and Parish, seems a bit of yesterday. The ruins of Pargetter Abbey look down on Pagford from its spot on a high hill, and blocks Pagford from the view of Yarvil, the bigger and more industrial neighbor that Pagfordians hold in disdain.

Pagford has its “nobility” though I’m misusing that word dreadfully, as there is no title or true aristocracy here, just a very wealthy family that lives in Sweetlove, the manor where the old aristocracy used to live. The current residents are still held in awe by the kinds of people who care. But when this family first moved into the old place in the mid-20th century, they quite unwisely (from the standpoint of making friends) and lucratively (from the standpoint of making money) sold off the land that buffered the idyllic town of Pagford from the teeming masses of Yarvil. And that land, henceforth known as “the Fields,” became council housing for “needy Yarvilians.”

Or, in American terms, “projects.”

Yes, what we have here is a story about class warfare, about what happens on the council when some see the opportunity to get rid of the projects and the clinic that supports them, while others want to absorb the people more completely into the Pagford community and give them a way out.

Are your eyes rolling up in your head yet?  Don’t. I just made it sound much drier than it is.

Because Jo continues as she began. We keep dipping into the lives of the people caught up in this drama. I will say right now that Howard Mollison and Vernon Dursley are cut from the same cloth. I’m sure I’m not the first to make such a comparison. But as deep as I am in the book, I have yet to see Howard and his wife Shirley show a speck of human decency.  I’m sure they will eventually. Well, fairly sure. Simply because Jo doesn’t seem to be painting in pure black and white in this book. Many varying shades of gray, though.

It doesn’t take anything away from the other adult characters to say that I am still more interested in what happens to the teenagers than the adults. I am not sure why. Is it because Jo has a stronger affinity with them herself, and thus her portrayal is that much richer? It’s hard for me to say that, because she certainly starts fleshing out all the characters in this section.

It’s difficult to see Andrew, whom I’ve liked, have a friend who is a horrible bully, and it’s difficult to see an awkward young girl get bullied, and it’s difficult to be in the bully’s point of view and get some sense of what drives him, some sense of understanding, and yet no empathy for him. Do I want to feel empathy for the bully? Not exactly. I think what I’m struggling with is that Jo is deliberately making it difficult for us to feel empathy with any of them. She dips in and out of various lives without giving us a primary character to bond with. The characters all bristle with choices or actions that make them difficult to like, in most cases difficult to care about–

And yet I find it all so damned compelling. I want to keep reading. I want to see what she is doing here, what point she is going to make and how.

I want to see what drives them, as Jo unpeels the layers of onionskin.

I want to see what they do next.

What happens next.

Another Potter-Point.

If the elder Mollisons are the Dursleys, then I’ll go ahead and make another jump. Simon and Ruth Price (parents of Andrew) are the Snapes.  Simon is a physical bully, it’s becoming pretty clear. While the Mollisons take pride in the success they’ve found through hard work and a general feeling of superiority to most around them, Simon Price has become successful by cutting legal corners, buying stolen goods, using company equipment to do things for his own financial benefit, etc. The glimpse we had of Severus Snape’s home life looks much like the Price’s.  And I will admit being startled the first time I saw his nickname, Arf Price.  Why? Because for a second through, my brain saw Half-Blood Prince. Go figure.

But I’m not looking at the teenagers and seeing Hogwarts. (I’m wondering about Hogwarts, though. I’m wondering which sordid tales she withheld, who was doing drugs, who was having sex, who was abused or abusing.) The issues in The Casual Vacancy are so different from the Potter series that the teenagers don’t seem like they come from the same mind. Or so it seems to me right now. You could probably point out similarities to me that will make me slap my forehead and go, d’oh!

By the time I got to the end of “Olden Days” Barry Fairweather is in the ground, buried in a wicker casket (which is supposedly more green on several levels, but I’m surprised he wasn’t cremated since that seems to be the most common type of burial in the UK these days, from what I can tell). (“It’s a bloody picnic basket!” Oh, the outrage.) Even in death, that damned liberal Barry Fairweather is making statements, tsk.

And oh, how I ache for Krystal Weedon.  How I truly ache for that girl.

And on page 175, this section ends, and we turn the page to “Part Two.”

See ya there.

Are you reading along? What are you thinking? What have I missed or forgotten to mention?





Filed under Books, Harry Potter, JK Rowling, Review, The Casual Vacancy

9 responses to “Blogging The Casual Vacancy: "Olden Days"

  1. Lauri

    I think I’m further along than you are now, so I won’t wreck anything for you. I have gotten very engrossed in all the characters, and I now share your affinity for Krystal Weedon. I wasn’t so interested in her at first but now that I understand more about her life and her past, I really want to see things turn out well for her. More little details keep coming out about everyone as the book goes on, but I still feel like I’m waiting for some big reveal, I’m not sure why.

  2. denise

    sounds interesting–I still need to crack it open

  3. Lauri

    I’ve also decided that I like Kay. I didn’t like her when I was only experiencing her through Gavin’s eyes. But now that she’s had some parts from her own view, I like her better and I think Gavin is a kind of a jerk. Granted, I don’t totally blame him for her decision to move to Pagford, she should have not assumed their relationship was moving forward that way. But he KNOWS he doesn’t really want her for the long-term, and he should have stepped up and said so.

    • Oh, I definitely agree. Kay is a great example of a character who JKR just won’t give a break (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). Kay is stronger than she seems when it comes to fighting for her clients, and is weaker than she should be when it comes to her personal life. I think most authors would have made Gavin even worse, made him lie to her and make promises, to give Kay an excuse for moving. But instead we simply see a woman whose private life is a mess even while she does good things. It’s brutally realistic, and the kind of authorial choice JKR keeps making that has upset so many readers who simply find her characters “unlikeable.”

  4. Pingback: Blogging The Casual Vacancy: “Part One.” |

  5. Pingback: Blogging The Casual Vacancy, in conclusion |

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