Pagford’s village existentialist is the adolescent nihilist named Stuart ‘Fats’ Wall, the kid so cool that he doesn’t care what clique or gang you belong to, he can relate to you just as he is. He’s hipper in his own way than Ferris Bueller.
Fats’ byword and the standard by which he measure real against unreal is “authenticity.” He values the authentic because it is what it is without pretension or feigned substance; it is the opposite of everything which hypocrisy is not.
If Fats’ end is any indication, though, Vacancy is anything but a celebration of or advocacy piece for the existential appreciation of authenticity. Fats winds up a remorseful young man burdened by his responsibility for the deaths of Krystall and Robby, lives that were lost because of his indifference to the situations and reality of others (especially those for whom ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘authenticity’ are abstractions they cannot afford to parse).
The birth of consciousness that Fats experiences in his remorse, his discovery of a greater Self than his delusional individuality, is a transformation that Casual Vacancy seems designed to deliver to us all. We are invited into the thinking, relatively narrow and broad, of a host of characters of great diversity. I think we each become more aware through reading Mugglemarch of our own narrow mindedness and selfishness, not to mention our failings and potential as parents, siblings, friends, children, and members of our communities. The chief virtue of Austen and Dickens protagonists, mental ‘penetration’ or insightful sympathy, is fostered in us as we reflect on our pathetic images in the story mirror.
I ask your comments and corrections, of course!