The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Jean-Marc says that he has constructed the story of Felicity’s disappearance from odd pieces of evidence. Yet he also lays claim to a rare gift for tinkering. One requirement of his trade, he says, is precision: “I tap, I listen, I adjust the pins, I am priest of austere and inviolable computations.” That, he says, is only a beginning, for then,This is where tempering comes in. This is where art and intuition and musicality apply. This is what distinguishes the master piano tuner from the mere technician.

Breaking free from his usual lowly role in artistic performance, he assumes the role of the maestro of his imagined representation of reality.

At the outset, Felicity is no more politically active than the philandering, venial Gus. Her interest is art. She is a distinguished art historian and curator of an art gallery in Boston. As Jean-Marc explains, however, she is a woman who has spent her life crossing geographical and spiritual borders, a skill which recommends her to Jean-Marc’s father. Felicity is chief among many consorts of the Old Volcano, the voracious artistic genius whose creativity and life flout societal borderlines.

Jean-Marc recalls that Felicity spent her childhood in India and Australia before coming to Canada and the United States, and imagines that she, always the vagabond, will eventually reappear. Yet there is a dark, foreboding side to Felicity, too. In a “wilderness file,” she keeps clippings...

(The entire section is 410 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Felicity, an art historian and curator of a private gallery in Boston. Strikingly beautiful, with cornsilk hair and slightly uneven eyes, the thirty-three-year-old Felicity has been a magnet for danger and confusion all of her life. She longs for her dead father, avoids committed relationships, and collects newspaper clippings that confirm her suspicion that reality and unreality are never far apart. She is not easily surprised. When she and Gus stumble upon Dolores Marquez, a Salvadoran refugee, hidden in a carcass of beef, they instinctively help her get across the border. This act brings Felicity into the center of an international intrigue, as mysterious figures on both sides try to locate the refugee. As she tries to cope with being stalked, having her apartment ransacked and her car disabled, and answering conflicting pleas for help, Felicity thinks through her own past and tries to find sense in it. Because she always has been imaginative and introspective, no one takes her story seriously until she disappears.

Augustine (Gus) Kelly

Augustine (Gus) Kelly, a traveling insurance salesman from Ontario. A middle-aged Catholic with thinning hair and four daughters, Gus drinks too much, talks too much when he is drunk, and is habitually unfaithful to his wife. After he and Felicity smuggle Dolores Marquez over the border, Gus’s guilt over his unfaithfulness, his lack of success in business, and his failure...

(The entire section is 570 words.)