The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Alun Weaver

Alun Weaver, a critic, poet, journalist, and television personality in England, recognized for his service to literature by an award from the queen. In his early sixties, he decides to go into semiretirement in his native town in South Wales. A handsome, charming man with a fearsome reputation as a womanizer, he has not been slowed by age; his famous mane of hair, once deep bronze and now snow-white (somewhat deepened by a dye job), and his quick sense of sexual prey and willingness to please are immediately put into practice as he returns to his old friends, both male and female. He can be monumentally glib, and unrepentant about it, but he is also a scarifying commentator on social, political, artistic, and personal stupidities.

Rhiannon Weaver

Rhiannon Weaver, Weaver’s wife, beautiful as a girl and still handsome as an old woman. Gray-eyed, tall, and fair, she is not without old lovers herself, if more properly so, but she is not, like her husband, sexually obsessed. She knows what he is usually up to when he disappears, but she has come to terms with it. Her big test lies in meeting the one serious love of her life, Peter Thomas, and dealing with him.

Peter Thomas

Peter Thomas, the youthful lover of Rhiannon Weaver who let her down when she became pregnant while at the university. A retired chemical engineer, he lives in mortal vicious combat with his wife, a Yorkshire woman. Thomas is deeply unhappy and conveys an air of constant melancholy and bad temper in public, punctuated by shards of witty disdain. He is dangerously overweight, and, in early old age, is bald-headed, paunchy, and barely able to transport himself from one chair to another. He is not much of the man whom Rhiannon loved years earlier. He still loves her but does not look forward to being in constant social conjunction with her, given his present state.

Muriel Thomas...

(The entire section is 798 words.)