J. K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy, 2012
The move to Pagford had been the worst thing that had ever happened to Gaia Bawden. Excepting occasional visits to her father in Reading, London was all that she had ever known. So incredulous had Gaia been, when Kay had first said she wanted to move to a tiny West Country town, that it had been weeks before she took the threat seriously. She had thought it one of Kay's mad ideas, like the two chickens she had bought for their tiny back garden in Hackney (killed by a fox a week after purchase), or deciding to ruin half their saucepans and permanently scar her own hand by making marmelade, when she hardly ever cooked.
Wrenched from friends she had had from primary school, from the house she had known since she was eight, from weekends that were, increasingly, about every kind of urban fun, Gaia had been plunged, over the pleas, threats and protests, into a life she had never dreamed existed. Cobbled streets and no shops open after six o'clock, a communal life that seemed to revolve around the church, and where you could often hear birdsong and nothing else: Gaia felt as though she had fallen through a portal into a land lost in time.
She and Kay had clung tightly to each other all Gaia's life (for her father had never lived with them, and Kay's two successive relationships had never been formalized), bickering, condoling and growing steadily more like flat-mates with passing years. Now, though, Gaia saw nothing but an enemy when she looked across the kitchen table. Her only ambition was to return to London, by any means possible, and to make Kay as unhappy as she could, in revenge. She could not decide whether it would punish Kay more to fail all her GCSEs1, or to pass them, and try and get her father to agree to house her, while she attended a sixth-form college in London. In the meantime, she had to exist in alien territory, where her looks and her accent, once instant passports to the most select social circles, had become foreign currency.
1 GCSE: diploma for students aged 14 to 16 in Britain
Adapted from Joanna Trollope, The Soldier's Wife, 2012
Isabel put her fingers lightly across her eyelids, and opened her eyes slowly behind them. She was not, of course, at school. She was at home, in her own bedroom, at number seven, the Quadrant, Larkford Camp, Wiltshire, which had been home for nearly for two years. Before that home had been a bit in Germany, and a bit in Yorkshire and a bit in London, and before that, when it was just Mum and Isabel on their own, a bit in another part of London in a highup flat with the top of a tree right outside the windows, which Isabel believed she remembered with a passionate nostalgia. There'd also been schools to go with all these places, school after school.
“Five schools by year six,” Mum had said to Isabel, trying to make the case for boarding school1. “It's too much. It's too much for you. It isn't fair. You make friends and then you move and lose them. Don't you think you'd rather have continuity, even if it means sleeping away from home?”
Isabel didn't know. Even now, technically settled into boarding school, she didn't know. She wanted to feel steadier, she wanted to please, she understood that if Dan got a promotion they might move again – but then, if he didn't, if they didn't, why was it necessary for her to be away from home when home wasn't, after all, changing? And then there were the twins. The twins went to a local nursery school, and when they were five would go to the local primary.
“But the twins —” Isabel began.
Mum looked at her. Isabel could see she understood and hadn't got a real answer. She just said, “We – can't plan, you see. Not if we want to stay together. As a family. But if you go to boarding school, at least you know – I know – that one thing, at least, will go on as before. That's all.”
In Isabel's experience, it was only the small things that went on as before, like the smell of the linen cupboard and the twins' refusal to eat anything orange and the way one fingernail on her left hand grew at a very slight angle. The big stuff, like what was going to happen next, to all of them, was always a giant question mark hanging in the air, affecting everything, every mood. And even when the question mark was answered, it was always replaced by another one. Like today. Today was a big day, a day they had been looking forward for six months, a day that was circled on the kitchen calendar, and for which the twins had made a huge messy paper banner randomly stuck with patches of shiny coloured paper and scraps of pink feather from a dressing-up boa.
Today, Dan was coming home from his mission, with his whole battery.
How does Gaia feel about moving from London to Pagford? Quote 2 elements from the first paragraph to support your answer.
Quoting from the text, what elements does she associate with London ?
To what extent does this move change her relationship with Kay, her mother?
How does Gaia intend to punish her mother for moving to Pagford? Find 2 elements in the text.
“In the meantime, she had to exist in alien territory, where her looks and her accent, once instant passports to the most select social circles, had become foreign currency.”
Identify the two metaphors linked to the “alien territory”.
List the characters and say how you think they are connected.
What do you learn about Dan's professional situation?
“It's too much. It's too much for you. It isn't fair.” What “isn't fair”?
Why does her mother insist on sending Isabel to boarding school?
Explain Isabel's mixed feelings about her mother's decision.
What does it reveal about her vision of stability as compared to her mother's?
Compare and contrast Gaia's and Isabel's situations.