I’ll be doing a series of posts on The Casual Vacancy. Be forewarned, there will be spoilers.
The book opens with Barry Fairbrother. The opening paragraph is fairly lacklustre in my mind. “Barry did not want to go out to dinner. He had endured a thumping headache …” Doesn’t exactly scream hook, nor the voice especially pull in me in.
The chapter presents a boring Barry. Tepid relations with wife Mary. A ho-hum relationships with his children. He tries to mollify his miffed wife by taking out to dinner at the country club. And then his headache acts up and he dies when they get there. Well. I’m unmoved by this opening. Barry has bunch of little disappointments but no major heaviness that would make me care about his loss. So now we have dead Barry and crying widow, and fatherless children. Perfect. Moving on.
The next chapter introduces Miles and Samantha.They had being by Mary’s side throughout the entire ordeal, and for a strange reason, are proud of their accidental charity. They are rather excited to tell Howard (who’s on speaker phone) and his wife Shirley about the news of Barry’s death. There are tiny amusements as Samantha is engrossed with wanting to tell the news to others. It’s all juicy gossip. There are little asides about the cool relations between Miles and Samatha. But nothing definite that would anchor me these characters as they all strike me as blandly petty. There’s nothing in motion to set the story going. Just a chapter of manners. Again moving on.
The next chapter has different tone. At least the opening pov character Ruth is sympathetic about the death. she tells the news to her husband Simon, who comes off quickly as ignorant and grouchy. The chapter strikes an interesting note. The dialogue is perfect backdrop to the hostilities between Simon and his son Andrew. The contrast between what Andrew says and what he thinks makes for an engaging read.
The next chapter goes back to Shirley. This is just another chapter of exposition, a little bland and hyperbolic at that. Shirley hated Barry apparently, more so than her husband Howard does. The reasons for the animosity point to vague assertions of haughtiness, but nothing definite. Frankly I found this chapter a little on the caricaturish side. Shirley despises Barry, but considers Howard, “… like sunlight and oxygen.” She uploads a very proper condolence statement on the parish council website with a surfeit of a schadenfreude. I suppose, we are clearly meant to dislike Shirley. No plot movement at this point.
So far we have nine different characters so far in less than 5% of the book. Don’t wince yet, there’s more.