Gregor Keuschnig (KOYSH-nihk), a press attaché at the Austrian embassy in Paris. His job is to read French newspapers and look for articles concerning Austria. Keuschnig is in early middle age; he is married and has a four-year-old daughter. He has a dream one night in which he murders an old woman, and from that point on he is in an extremely agitated state of mind. Although he pretends to be normal, he is at a point of psychological and spiritual crisis, alienated from his own true self. He wanders the streets of Paris, trying to make sense of his life. Keuschnig seems at times to be in a kind of schizophrenic state in which random objects take on a new and strange significance. He longs to experience something that will give his existence meaning. While sitting on a park bench, he sees three objects on the ground: a chestnut leaf, a piece of a broken mirror, and a child’s hair clip. These random items suddenly become a kind of semimystical revelation, and he realizes that he has the capacity to experience his life in a different way. This episode, however, seems to be of only momentary duration, and his profound feelings of alienation return. At home, he and his wife have a dinner party. At one point during the meal, Keuschnig begins to disrobe, and in an infantile manner, he begins to throw food at his guests. Haunted by dreams of his mother, he at times feels suicidal. He believes that he must somehow make the world “mysterious” so that he can again perceive existence in a new, revitalized way. At the end of the novel, he realizes that he must find a new job and change his life.
The Writer, a friend of Keuschnig. He is about the same age as Keuschnig and has the habit of constantly watching other people and writing down notes. He seems to follow Keuschnig around, noting his behavior. This constant observation comes to annoy the latter, and, during the dinner party, Keuschnig attacks him.