Book 1, Chapter 5
Theo writes that today, January 22, would have been his daughter’s birthday had he not accidentally run her over with his car when she was fifteen months old. While he felt some paternal affection for his daughter, he admits that he mostly felt jealous of his wife’s love for her. Indeed, his primary emotion upon realizing that he had killed Natalie was humiliation. His wife, Helena, never forgave him for Natalie’s death, and the incident ruined their already tenuous marriage. They left the family home and moved into a five-story house in the city to be closer to Theo’s work. Theo reveals that Helena left him for a younger man last year and that he now lives alone in their large house.
In this chapter we learn that despite Theo’s admission that he is emotionally stunted, he did attempt to have a family. Unsurprisingly, Theo’s marriage to Helena was already failing when he accidentally killed their baby daughter, Natalie. Though Theo admits that he was the one who ran over Natalie, his vague recollections of the event and the inquest that followed suggest that he cannot allow himself to fully accept his culpability in her death. That Theo’s primary emotional memory of Natalie’s death is his feeling of humiliation illustrates how inherently selfish he is. This is further demonstrated through his belief that his marriage could have been salvaged if Helena had acknowledged that the death was just as hard—or perhaps even harder—on Theo as it was on her. Though this initially sounds reasonable, Theo’s admission that he never actually loved Natalie makes his expectation that Helena—who loved Natalie with all her heart—comfort him seem rather callous. Even now, Theo is unable to remember Natalie without criticizing her, showing us how ingrained his tendency toward judgment is. As the novel progresses, Theo’s obvious inexperience with love and selflessness will become more significant.