Author: Dan Jacobson
First published: 1973
Locale: London and Switzerland
Plot: Psychological symbolism
Time: c. 1950–1970
Timothy Fogel, a psychotic individual who parallels the narrator. Beginning with his conception and ending with the murder of Susie, the narrative traces Timothy's development as a strange, isolated boy into a profoundly disturbed young man. As a child, Timothy believes he can transform himself into any inanimate form. Rejected by a young girl named Susie, young Timothy retreats into his subjective world, reveling in his meditative “power.” As Timothy matures, so does his obsession with his “gift” and Susie until, in an effort to possess Susie completely, he murders her and her unborn child.
Gerhard Fogel, Timothy's father, a Jew who fled from Nazi Germany to settle in England. Gerhard is a commercial artist who leads a quiet, nondescript life. Although he is tortured by the possibility that Timothy is really Mr. Truter's son, Gerhard accepts the “arrangement” between his wife and the landlord because of financial necessity. After his wife's death, Gerhard attempts to understand and help his son, to no avail. An underdog, Gerhard contrasts to his counterpart in the novel, the narrator's successful father.
Maureen Sullivan Fogel, Timothy's mother, a large Irish-woman with copper-colored hair and large, crooked teeth. She works as a salesclerk in a tobacco shop. Maureen appears to be mentally handicapped in some way. She tells Timothy that, ever since she was rescued from the remains of a hotel destroyed by a German bomber, her mind has been damaged. Gerhard, attracted to her helplessness, married her. After their marriage, Maureen continued working as a clerk, and, one day, unaware of her condition, Maureen gave birth to Timothy on the floor of Robinson's tobacco shop. Apparently for reasons of convenience, Maureen has a sexual relationship with the landlord, Mr. Truter. Maureen falls ill and dies when Timothy is a teenager.
Susie Sendin, a young woman with whom Timothy is obsessed. Susie's appearance seems average—light brown hair, hazel eyes, and a smattering of freckles on her nose—as does her personality, yet she becomes Timothy's entire world. Irritated and flattered by Timothy's attentions, she shuns his strange affection and dates other boys, which Timothy sees as betrayal. Susie falls in love with a married man. While pregnant with that man's child, she is murdered by Timothy.
Laurence Sendin, Susie's brother and Timothy's friend. Laurence, an adolescent thief, confides in Timothy, and the two become partners of sorts. Through Laurence, Timothy develops a fascination for jewels, which, in his warped imagination, he ties into his “gift” and his desire for Susie. It appears that Timothy uses Laurence to become closer to his sister.
Mr. Truter, the Fogels' landlord. Mr. Truter, Maureen's lover, is possibly Timothy's father. It is implied that Mr. Truter exchanges reductions in rent for sexual favors from Maureen. Timothy, who witnesses the two making love, is shunned by Susie and others because of his mother's scandalous relationship with the landlord.
Mabel, Susie's friend. At Susie's insistence, Mabel becomes Timothy's unlikely girlfriend. Although he despises the homely, overweight Mabel, Timothy courts her to spite Susie.
Elsie Brody Fogel, Gerhard's second wife. Heavily made up, with dyed-black hair, Elsie is a tacky, garrulous, and dull-witted woman who shows great curiosity in Timothy's peculiarities.
The narrator, Timothy's counterpart, who discovers that he is a patient in a mental institution. Paranoid and self-absorbed, the narrator harbors deep resentment toward his doctor and father. Fascinated with his own psyche, he creates his autobiography, the story of Timothy Fogel. According to the narrator's father, however, the pages of his book contain only scribbling.
The narrator's father, Gerhard's counterpart, who visits the narrator in the sanatorium. Unlike Gerhard, the narrator's father seems to be a successful, self-confident businessman, ashamed of his son's condition.
Dr. Wuchs, a psychiatrist treating the narrator. Dr. Wuchs is an immaculately dressed, well-respected professional. The narrator, however, suspects that he was a Nazi during the war and that his skills and motives are questionable.