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English Literature


The writer does not use names for any of the characters, apart from Pete and Vanessa. And we only ever get the main character's viewpoint on events. As intelligent readers, we know there is always more than one side to a story. The way the novel has been written allows us to guess at other interpretations of events.


  • She seems obsessed with what she sees as her daughter's low moral standards. She is equally obsessed with purity and the colour white. The mother is shocked her daughter carries contraceptives in her bag, but we know the narrator was sexually active before she got married.
  • She is tactless and interfering. She does not respect her daughter's right to privacy, replacing the curtains in her room without asking her, and snooping in her bag.
  • The mother does not deal with her daughter's disappearance in an open manner. She holds herself tight "to keep the pain in", tells people she is certain her daughter will be back soon, when in reality she wonders if she is dead, and does not discuss "this terrible pain" with her husband.
  • She is self-pitying, but does not show pity for others. She thinks homeless people who ask for money are an inconvenience, and that it is disgusting they sleep in 'filth'. The narrator also sees her mother's poor background as something to be ashamed of. It could be said she is a snob.
  • She assumes the worst of people: "people pretend to be kind but they're ghouls"; Vanessa looked like the type who would take drugs; her daughter will "go with men" to get money for food.
  • The mother has double standards for men and women. The father is excused for using bad language because he lost his temper. With the daughter, it is seen as 'rudeness'. She seems to blame everything on the daughter.
  • The narrator had a strict upbringing, and is proud her father thought she was 'bright'. However, you get the impression she does not feel that she lived up to his high expectations.
  • She compares her 'vulgar' mother, who was "a bit of a tart", to her daughter.
  • She is half-mad with 'grief' because her 15-year-old daughter has run away.
  • The mother has been signed off work ('school') for a week and is on medication to help her sleep.
  • She studied nutritional science at college.
  • She is controlling: she washes and irons the shoelaces even though they are new; likes the comfort of the lines on the paper that hold her writing in place; and puts the trainers in the cupboard to stop them from running away. She also tried to control her daughter's eating habits.
  • She admits she did not know her daughter. The mother shows her distance from her by referring to "your generation", "you and your lot", and "that mob you got in with at school".

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