The main fact about all the main characters is that they are old, seemingly between sixty and seventy. The embarrassments of age are a main part of the story. Malcolm is secretly but obsessively worried about his teeth and his bowels. Charlie (along with most of the other characters, but to a greater extent) keeps going by blotting out much of the outside world with drink. Peter is in an even worse position than either, having allowed himself, in despair and disappointment with his failed marriage, to become grossly fat—so fat, the reader is told, that dressing has become a daily problem; even a simple matter such as cutting his own toenails has become virtually insoluble. As far as the reader can tell, only Alun, of the four principal male characters, remains potent, and though this is a psychological as well as a physical matter, it is made clear that age makes everything, from toenails to sexuality, more difficult, while at the same time it tends continually to shut down one’s options.
A side effect is that character in a way becomes more pronounced. Young people may change, or learn, or succeed, or at least entertain comforting illusions about themselves. Old people are likely on the one hand to know themselves better and on the other hand to be more set in their ways, and thus more transparent to others. The reader is given engaging pictures accordingly of Malcolm slowly realizing why it is that he has always been socially unpopular: He dresses badly, he says what others are thinking, but at times, when they recognize the virtue of silence, he has a fatal lack of empathy (bred,...
(The entire section is 654 words.)