Isobel Callaghan is the novel’s vain, capricious, and creative protagonist. She is Margaret’s younger sister and May and Robert’s daughter. After suffering a childhood marked by trauma, poverty, and violence, the sixteen-year-old Isobel… read analysis of Isobel Callaghan
Mrs. May Callaghan
Isobel and Margaret’s mother and Robert’s wife, May, is a violent and cruel woman who abused Isobel (and to a lesser extent, Margaret) throughout her childhood. May Callaghan is a woman possessed by… read analysis of Mrs. May Callaghan
Isobel’s sister, Margaret, is older, more sensitive, and without a doubt, May and Robert’s favorite child. Despite this, she still suffers cruelty and abuse at the hands of her mother, most notably when… read analysis of Margaret Callaghan
Mr. Robert Callaghan
Isobel and Margaret’s father and May’s husband, Robert, dies early on in the novel. At first, he seems to be a benign presence, tired of his wife’s rage and desirous of peace and… read analysis of Mr. Robert Callaghan
The landlady of the boarding house, Mrs. Bowers is an imposing but gentle woman who takes a liking to Isobel almost right away. Mrs. Bowers has a contentious relationship with her daughter, Madge, and… read analysis of Mrs. Bowers
Mrs. Bowers’ daughter, Madge, is kind and soft spoken but has disappointed her mother by taking up with a religious cult. Madge becomes engaged to Arthur, a kind man she met through her new… read analysis of Madge
A quiet, studious, and attractive university student who is a member of the tight-knit, intellectual group of friends that Isobel hopes to be a part of. Nick is being stalked by a former girlfriend named… read analysis of Nick
One of the university students whom Isobel befriends at a local café. Trevor is an intellectual, and he and Isobel spar and discuss literature at length. He lends her several books, and one time, attempts… read analysis of Trevor
A girl on the fringes of the university students’ clique who is obsessed with Nick and stalks him throughout town. Isobel is often tasked with dealing with Diana, as the rest of the students (and… read analysis of Diana
A little girl staying at the lake house where the Callaghans are vacationing. Although Isobel is not allowed to tell anyone that it is her birthday, she shares the news with Caroline but warns her… read analysis of Caroline Mansell
Isobel’s childhood neighbor. Isobel once wrote a poem about Mrs. Adams’s cat, Smoke, which was published in the local paper. The poem referred to Mrs. Adams by name, and after the poem’s publication, May… read analysis of Mrs. Adams
One of Isobel’s well-to-do aunts who lives off in the country. After May’s death, Yvonne takes Margaret in.
One of the women who helps Mrs. Bowers run the boarding house where Isobel lives. She is dreamy and aloof but kind, and always has a strange, remarkable story or dream to share.
A kind older woman who lives in Isobel’s boarding house.
One of the boarders, and a brash and boisterous young man.
One of the boarders who is close friends with Norman.
One of the boarders at the boarding house, Mr. Watkin is an elderly man who loves playing bridge and who spend his life collecting fortunes of dynasties of racing horses.
The head girl at Isobel’s office. She is kind and helpful, and she genuinely wants to help Isobel learn the ropes, stay out of trouble, and advance through the work environment.
One of Isobel’s coworkers—a sunny girl with a mischievous smile.
One of Isobel’s coworkers. She is sweet and has an “agreeable” face.
One of Isobel’s coworkers who works in the stockroom. Frank is an outgoing fellow who encourages Isobel to become a writer.
One of Isobel’s bosses. He is a kind man who wants Isobel to do well at the office.
One of Isobel’s bosses who frequently stands behind her while she works and watches her, causing her to feel self-conscious, slow, and ineffectual at her job.
A girl Isobel knows from school who hangs out with a cool clique of intellectuals. Isobel introduces herself to Vinnie in order to worm her way into the clique, but Vinnie does not spend much time with the group after that.
A university student obsessed with poetry who thinks his own verses are sensational.
One of the university students whom Isobel befriends at a café, Janet is a slightly cruel, gossipy girl.
The landlady at Fifty-one, the building where Nick and Trevor live.
A guest at the lake house where the Callaghans are spending their holiday. She is a kindly young woman who admires and encourages Isobel’s love of books.
Mr. Mansell, Caroline’s father, is a kindly man staying at the lake house where Isobel and her parents are holidaying. He gives Isobel a brooch for her birthday—the first real birthday present she has ever received—much to her delight and her mother’s dismay.
A man with whom Isobel has a one-night stand and steals a book from.