The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

At the center of the commune is Alice Mellings, the “good” terrorist, who cooks, cleans, and steals from her friends and parents to keep the house going. It is Alice who negotiates with the Council and the police to keep the house from demolition, who persuades a plumber to help them fix pipes, and who does most of the heavy work involved in repairing the house.

Alice is a stocky thirty-six-year-old who sometimes looks like a clumsy twelve-year-old, sometimes like a fattish woman of fifty, but never her own age. She has been to college but has no interest in doing anything with her education. Instead, for the last fifteen years, she has been moving from house to house with Jasper, the boyfriend who perpetually abuses her. Jasper enjoys kicking her ankles and squeezing her wrists until he hurts her, all the while letting her look after him and complaining that other people exploit her. Alice seems to live for those moments when Jasper confides in her or allows her to show her affection for him. Her greatest fear is that Jasper will move his sleeping bag to another room (not that he ever allows her to touch him), or that he will not return from a night spent cruising the homosexual bars with money she has provided.

Alice goes through the novel on an emotional roller coaster of sorts. After two days of running from one government office to another, of scrubbing the walls and floors of the house, almost single-handedly saving it, she glows in the praise of her friends. A few moments later, she is in tears, left alone to continue the drudge work while the group goes off to a demonstration.

Alice’s relationship with her mother is a particular source of ambivalence and emotional turmoil. She constantly berates her mother for her middleclass values, then begs her for money and approval. Alice literally...

(The entire section is 751 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Alice Mellings

Alice Mellings, a would-be terrorist. Although she is in her mid-thirties, she looks like either an overgrown child or a plain woman of fifty. Described as “pudgy” and “clumsy,” Alice is a self-effacing woman who relishes being subservient to others. A college graduate and a product of a middle-class family, she shuns her former world, turning to her mother and old friends only for financial assistance. She has been a political agitator for about fifteen years. Directionless herself, she takes pleasure in organizing other people’s lives, especially through running a commune of squatters in London. Some of the commune’s inhabitants think of themselves as terrorists; others are interested only in free food and lodging. Alice remains at the center of the narrative, which becomes more an exploration of her and the others’ characters than a chronicle of terrorist activities.


Jasper, Alice’s boyfriend and a would-be terrorist leader, in his early twenties. He is extremely thin, with “pinkish freckled skin” that helps to give him what is described as “an angelic, candid air.” Like Alice, he comes from a middle-class family, which he has rejected. Jasper is a homosexual whose interest in Alice stems from his need for mothering, a role that Alice fulfills with delight. Bitterness toward his father appears to be the major motivation for his amateurish terrorism, which finally leads...

(The entire section is 551 words.)