Book 2, Chapter 20


It is several months later and Theo has finally returned to Oxford from his vacation. Though he traveled to many famous cities, his journey was unremarkable as it was motivated by a desire to escape rather than excitement. Despite the return to familiar surroundings, Theo feels disoriented, as if everything has changed in some small, inexplicable way. To combat this sense of unease, he phones Helena to ask if anything happened while he was away. She tells him that rumors have been flying about a group of dissidents that are interrupting the Quietus and that TV announcers recently reported these dissidents plan to free all of the convicts on the Isle of Man. Shortly afterward, Theo has a disconcerting dream in which the Five Fishes berate him for accidentally killing Julian. Despite his general feelings of unease, he is not contacted by the Five Fishes and does not believe that he is under any form of surveillance. One day, he runs out to Binesy and finds the whole hamlet abandoned, including the church in which the Five Fishes used to meet.


Theo’s feelings of unease upon his return show that his vacation did little to distance him from his troubles at home. Theo finds it difficult to step back into his former patterns; everything—from the rooms in his house to his work interactions—seems distant and isolating. Of course it is Theo, not his environment, who has changed. For the first time, Theo is bothered by his intentionally empty and impersonal life. Though Theo’s life has been in decay from the very beginning, he only truly notices it after his interactions with Julian. Theo’s inability to re-acclimate to his former life indicates that, despite his best efforts, he has changed in some fundamental way. Theo’s continued preoccupation with Julian and the Five Fishes is emphasized by his nightmare, which mirrors his recurring dream about his father. While the nightmare about his father symbolized Theo’s regret that they were not closer, his dream about the Five Fishes both symbolizes his regret that he abandoned Julian and foreshadows his further involvement with the group.