A brand saved from the burning, Matty “Septimus” Windrave survives the holocaust of the Nazi firebombings of London during World War II, horribly burned, orphaned, marked psychologically and spiritually by his ordeal. Designated “number seven” in the burn wards of the hospital, he has no recollection of his previous life and is wholly isolated from the fellowship of other war victims because of his monstrous appearance. At the Foundlings School at Greenfield, Mr. Pedigree, a pitiful old pederast, shrinks from the boy’s unspoken plea for friendship. Rejected by the other schoolmasters as “that horrible, ugly boy,” Matty withdraws into himself in a quest for spiritual enlightenment. A sense that he not only is different from others but also has a chosen destiny, a self-sacrifice to endure, drives him to intense introspection, to observe accurately other people, first as a laborer in Australia, then back in his old haunts in provincial Greenfield, England.
In his journals, he records the mundane activities of this world with the eye of a mystic, searching for spiritual direction toward his mission. Particularly at Sim Goodchild’s Rare Books, he observes the twins Sophy and Toni Stanhope, beautiful, clever girls whose manner of affected innocence conceals a tortured impulse to evil. As children, the twins took sadistic pleasure in torturing animals; now, bored political radicals, they plot a crime both absurd and gratuitous: to kidnap—or...
(The entire section is 401 words.)