In this novel of “bright young people,” the characters themselves do not strike one as overly bright. Atwater, the central focus, and his foil Pringle, are the dominant figures, just as their dull affairs with Harriet and Susan constitute the central dramatic action. Both are failed artists and failed lovers who also fail to gain much reader sympathy. Atwater is described as a “weedy-looking” young man with tortoiseshell glasses, and Pringle is similarly nondescript. Atwater is somewhat of a lazy parasite who drifts through a series of social encounters in a bored, indifferent way. Pringle, more socially ambitious than his friend, is both neurotic and melodramatic. The two central female characters are only sketchily delineated; Susan is characterized as an individualist, whereas Harriet is depicted as a social clone.
None of these four characters is presented in any other framework than as an “artsy” bohemian self-consciously embracing a superficial social life-style. The minor characters, such as Lola, Barlow, the journalist Fotheringham, are simply more of the same. All of them are drifting in a meaningless world in which whatever potential they have is destined never to be realized. There is no profound philosophical reason for their boredom and ennui; at least, Powell does not provide such a reason or allow the characters to give voice intelligently to such a reason. Instead, the characters seem to drift aimlessly simply because there does not seem to be anything else to do.