Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505
The novel opens with a description of the novel's two main characters, the middle-aged academics Joseph and Celice.
Both had been teachers. He was director at the Tidal Institute, where he was noted for his coldness as much as for his brains. She was a part-time tutor at the university. Hardly any of their colleagues had ever seen them together, or visited them at home, let alone witnessed them touch.
The married couple are sitting dead on Baritone Bay without their underclothes, their "heads caved in." For the remainder of the novel, the author writes about their decomposing bodies, the events that lead up to their murder, their past (which includes their first meeting, 30 years to the day, at Baritone Bay), and their daughter, Syl's, search for their bodies.
The author's style reflects the main characters's seemingly stiff, drab, existence. At times, the language is so matter-of-fact that it purposely takes away the emotion of a scene. It is as if the two academics have, themselves, become a subject of study.
The final sound that Joseph heard was his own bark. His face was grey-white, sheenless, dulled. He was still sweating and his penis was erect, not filled blood and passion but stiffened by the paroxysms of his muscles . . . His limbs and face still twitched, a reflex to the blood's acidity. His larynx was convulsed.
During their lifetimes, they lived a passionless life based around books and study. Even their courtship was unromantic. Celice in particular seems to think that their relationship had no spark. They simply bonded through their similar personalities and mutual interest in animals. Though, over the years, they developed some kind of love for each other, to outsiders, and particularly their daughter, Syl, their relationship remained a mystery.
Much to her parent's disappointment, Syl rejected her studies and left home to work as a waitress.
Syl was a waitress at a studio restaurant. The MetroGnone, next to the concert hall. She was the bald and brittle one, half liked, half feared by both her colleagues and the customers, mostly musicians. She was the sort they'd overtip, dismiss as rude, then try to date.
She is a lot more street wise, sociable, and sexual than her parents. At one point, she invites the taxi driver, Geo, into her parent's house to have sex with him. The only similarity she seems to share with them is that she finds it difficult to understand Geo's more emotional disposition. At the end of the novel, she finally rejects him by ignoring his knocks on the door and taking the phone off the hook.
Syl feels guilty about her parents death, blaming her herself and saying she had imagined them dying in her head many times. Though it is obvious she wasn't close to her parents, her parents's relationship seems have some kind of hold over her, and there is a suggestion that she feels a strong desire to be closer to them. At her parents's house, for example, she sleeps in her mother's night clothes.