Harriet, the novel’s protagonist, is the wife and mother to the Lovatt family. While working as a graphic designer, she meets David at an office party and they quickly marry, buy a too-expensive house… read analysis of Harriet Lovatt
David, an architect, is Harriet’s husband, and he is the father of Luke, Helen, Jane, Paul and Ben. David and Harriet fall in love at an office party after they discover… read analysis of David Lovatt
Fifth child of Harriet and David, and youngest sibling to Luke, Helen, Jane and Paul. Ben is heavy-shouldered, stout and hunched. His forehead slopes from his eyebrows to the crown of his… read analysis of Ben Lovatt
Dorothy, a widow, is Harriet’s mother and she is Harriet and David’s primary source of childcare throughout the novel, as the couple has more children than they can handle on their own. Though… read analysis of Dorothy
Harriet and David’s first child. Though he tries to teach Ben certain skills and mentor him, eventually Luke asks to be sent to boarding school to remove himself from the threatening atmosphere that Ben… read analysis of Luke Lovatt
Harriet and David’s second child. Though she also tries to teach Ben certain skills and is very kindhearted, eventually Helen asks, at the same time as Luke, to be sent to boarding school… read analysis of Helen Lovatt
James, a wealthy boat builder, is David’s father who funds the Lovatt family through the financial strain of having more children than they can support on their own. James is divorced from Molly and… read analysis of James Lovatt
Molly, a large and untidy academic, kind and remote if not typically maternal, is David’s mother. She is content to live a simpler, less well-to-do life than her first husband, James. Remarried now… read analysis of Molly
A big, shaggy, amiable young man who is hired by the Lovatts first to do yard work and then to watch Ben in the hours when he is not in school. Ben takes a strong… read analysis of John
Husband to Molly. Unkempt, academic. Though Frederick normally occupies the role of objective academic, he steps out on a limb to suggest that Ben needs to be removed from the home and put into… read analysis of Frederick
Sister to David, daughter of James and Molly. After the divorce, Deborah chose to live with James, whereas David remained with Molly. Deborah adopted her father’s wealthy lifestyle, while David did not. Deborah is… read analysis of Deborah
Daughter of Dorothy and mother to four children, including Amy, who is born with Down Syndrome. It is Harriet’s privately held opinion that Sarah and her husband William’s quarreling causes Amy to… read analysis of Sarah
Daughter of Sarah and William. Amy has Down syndrome, which the family is embarrassed by at first. When Amy’s sweetness is threatened by Ben’s cruelty, though, the family quickly becomes protective of Amy… read analysis of Amy
Husband to Sarah, with whom he quarrels often. Regularly out of work. He and Sarah don’t believe divorce to be an option for them because of their financial circumstances and the four children they must… read analysis of William
David's younger cousin. She grew up in a complicated family situation, and initially admires and enjoys the Lovatt's big family and loving family life. However, after Ben is born she is the first to… read analysis of Bridget
Harriet and David’s third child. Sweet-natured Jane stays home a bit longer than Luke and Helen, and she is the only one to go live with Dorothy instead of going to boarding school. She is more practical than intellectual.
Jessica, wife to James, is a noisy, kind, competent woman, with the cynical sense of humor of the wealthy. She is quite absent from the family gatherings as she dislikes England and prefers more tropical destinations for her holidays.
Daughter of Dorothy. Mother to three children. Angela does not receive Dorothy’s help, because her needs are less than those of her sisters, and she resents this fact, but she helps with hosting duties when visiting the Lovatt house for the holidays.
Widow cousin of Frederick, down on her luck, who comes to help Dorothy care for the children. Dorothy resents having to share authority with Alice, but she is grateful for the help.
Harriet’s regular obstetrician and pediatrician, who remains convinced that Harriet is overreacting to Ben’s behavior. He insists that nothing is wrong with the child before or after he is born.
A specialist that Harriet and Ben see in London who admits that something is different about Ben, but that there is no way to prove it and nothing to be done even if they could.
Billy, Derek, Vic and Elvis
Several of Ben’s group of friends when he reaches secondary school. They embrace him as a leader despite his differences. They behave rudely, occupying the Lovatt home despite Harriet and David’s protests. Harriet suspects that the boys are committing crimes, robbing people and businesses, and maybe even attacking women.