The chief interest of the novel lies in the development of the two main characters, Katherine Lind and Robin Fennel, since with the exception of the superb sketch of the self-important, wordy, unpleasant Lancelot Anstey, Philip Larkin does not lavish much attention on his minor characters.
The distinguishing characteristic of Katherine is that she is alone. This is partly a result of her foreignness, of which she is continually aware. She is forced to do the odd jobs at the library that no one else wants, which only emphasizes “that she was foreign and had no proper status there.” There is more than one hint that the English do not take kindly to foreigners in times of war.
The shock of her removal from her own country reinforces her isolation as she refuses to make friends. She resolves not to trust or to love, although in the past her happiness came from her relationships with other people. Now she believes that her strength must come solely from herself, but she cannot avoid the realization that her life has become like “a flat landscape, wry and rather small.” She has temporarily managed to convince herself that her meeting with Robin will change all that.
The events of the day force her into a modification of her attitudes. When she accompanies the wretched Miss Green, she feels protective and generous, happy at once more having someone who depends on her. Her happiness is also, however, a result of the expectations she holds for her renewed contact with Robin. Later in the day, when she talks with Miss Parbury and learns of her relationship with Anstey and of her invalid mother, Katherine senses “the undertow of people’s relations, two-thirds of which is without face, with only begging and lonely...
(The entire section is 717 words.)