Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Town. Unidentified town in southeast England. Despite the stunningly visual passage that opens the book–“I have walked by stalls in the market-place where books, dog-eared and faded from their purple, have burst with a white hosanna”–Mountjoy the artist provides remarkably little in the way of visual detail. Once he leaves the somber colors of Rotten Row for school, the town in which he lives ceases to be a coherent whole and becomes rather a sequence of unconnected sites in which significant incidents in his fall from grace occur. Never named, these sites are given only general appellations: the airfield, the school, the church, the hospital. At the airfield, Mountjoy is timidly following his more daring and admirable pal, Johnny, as he trespasses; at school he becomes a bully under the sly prompting of another friend, Peter, who also urges the desecration of the church where Mountjoy will be caught and hurt by the sexton, which lands him in the clean, white hospital where he learns his mother has died and the priest has become his guardian. None of these locations, not even the church, is a solid presence, the whole story of Mountjoy’s moral decline is told in his relationship with people not his environment.
*London. Great Britain’s capital city, located in southeastern England, not far from Kent. Mountjoy leaves his hometown only twice. He attends an art college (never seen) in south London, where he seduces, then abandons, Beatrice Ifor in a small, featureless flat. He also attends Communist Party meetings and marries another woman.
Prison cell. Punishment cell in which Mountjoy is confined in a German prison camp during World War II. During the war Mountjoy becomes a war artist and is captured by the Germans; however, the circumstance of his capture are never explained. In the camp to which he is taken, he is questioned by SS officers about his fellow prisoners’ escape plans. Since he has nothing to tell, he is locked in a tiny, pitch-black cell–the only place in the novel other than Rotten Row that is vividly described. Like the rocky island of Golding’s Pincher Martin (1956), the cell is a reflection of the inside of the main character’s head. As the claustrophobic Mountjoy gropes around in the dark, he discovers a damp patch in the middle of the floor and touches a wet soft mass that feels unspeakably horrible; he imagines it to be human organs. The empty shell becomes the setting for all his terrors and doubts, but the soft mass turns out to be merely wet rags and his cell a broom closet. It is only here, confronted with his own emptiness, that he can come to recognize who he is and begin the process of revisiting and understanding his life.