Book 1, Chapter 3
Theo describes his room at Xan’s family home and reflects that while he has not visited in over eight years, the memory of his bedroom at Woolcombe has stayed with him. He recalls the enchantment he felt during his first summer at Woolcombe despite the cynicism of his cousin. Even as a child, Xan derives “inner amusement” from throwing people off balance, leading Theo to conclude that no one can ever be certain what Xan is privately thinking. He reveals that after Xan’s mother died, Woolcombe was turned into a special nursing home for friends of the Council. Theo admits that while the thought of all the great buildings in Britain rotting away does not really affect him, he is saddened by the thought of Woolcombe’s inevitable decay.
Theo’s recollections of Woolcombe show a clear emotional attachment to the house and his happy memories of spending the summer there. When compared to Xan’s cynicism, Theo’s fond memories of the house suggest that he has a greater capacity for sentimentality and emotion than his cousin. Theo’s description of Xan’s mysterious behavior is interesting: while Theo believes that he can never be certain what Xan is thinking, we will later see that their similarities allow Theo to fairly accurately predict Xan’s actions. Though these chapters emphasize the distance between Theo and Xan, we will eventually see that they understand each other perhaps better than anyone else. Theo’s sadness at the thought of Woolcombe’s decay shows that the old house holds a special place in his heart. It also underscores the degree to which Theo is removed from the rest of the world. He only cares about those things with which he shares a personal connection; he feels nothing at the thought of mankind’s greatest monuments turning to dust.