The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Among the more than one hundred characters peopling the pages of The End of the World News, Dr. Valentine Brodie, a renegade university lecturer hungering for imperfection in life and sex, emerges as the novel’s protagonist and its commentator-for, uncannily, Brodie has himself written a science-fiction book about the end of the world, on which he lectures: “This, I think, is what our genre is about-the ways in which ordinary human beings respond to exceptional circumstances imposed unexpectedly upon them.” He is also the character through whose eyes the last months of the world are most intensely and most compassionately observed. His friendship with Willett springs from both men’s love for the richness of language and the nightlife of the city-a life which, nevertheless, they observe inevitably from a detached and intellectual, upper-class angle, even while they take their cherished mudbath in it. It is Willett who salvages the Freud and Trotsky videodiscs, because, as he himself says, “I am on them, though admittedly in rather small parts”-as Freud’s first follower, Dr. Adler, and the “extra” Bokharin.

This clever literary sleight of hand thus makes the two other texts into stories within the science-fiction story of The End of the World News (and thus legitimizes the title). Willett, however, is more than a structural linchpin in the novel. Poetic justice and a harsh rejection of nostalgia are meted out when Willett, who shoots the...

(The entire section is 555 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Lynx, a rogue planet from another solar system. It is the same size as Earth but ten times the density. The snuffling intonations of its radio signals and its predatory dance of approach and retreat from Earth make its name chillingly appropriate. The increasingly horrific natural upheavals caused on Earth by Lynx’s strengthening gravitational pull before the two planets’ final collision provide a terrifyingly violent and alien setting for the novel’s events.

Dr. Valentine Brodie

Dr. Valentine Brodie, the husband of Dr. Vanessa Frame Brodie. He is thirty-eight years old, handsome, and bearded, with the beginnings of a beer belly. A poet as a youth, Val is now a respected science-fiction writer and a university lecturer in literature. A romantic (as his name coyly implies), Val has turned increasingly to Manhattan’s seedy lowlife to find vitality and occasional sexual solace as an antidote to the shortcomings of his marriage and to his perception of the scientific world’s sterility. With the approach of Earth’s annihilation, Val mourns the passing of the vibrancy and even the dirt of human life but finally chooses survival aboard the spaceship America with the physically and scientifically elite group assembled to perpetuate humankind. Vanessa, a group leader, insists that Val be included because she loves him; at first, he dreads the prospect, but when he misses the group’s departure for the ship, he draws on unplumbed depths of courage and loyalty and on a newly aroused visionary strength to find his way to Vanessa and his new life as recorder of both Earth’s last days and this new phase of human existence.

Dr. Vanessa Frame Brodie

Dr. Vanessa Frame Brodie, a beautiful woman in her early thirties with ice-blue eyes and a perfect body. An eminent scientist and a natural leader for the America group, she possesses such a coldly brilliant intellect that her emotions are eclipsed; her clinical approach to sex with her husband, Val, obscures her actual deep love for him. When Val finds...

(The entire section is 857 words.)