After being struck by a speeding car while riding his bicycle, Paul Rayment suffers extensive damage to his right leg. An above-knee amputation is performed by a young surgeon, Dr. Hansen. Paul is a 60-year-old former photographer who lives in Australia. Divorced and childless, he has no one to assist him with the activities of daily living after he is discharged from the hospital. He refuses a prosthesis. Paul's accident and loss of a limb have triggered a reexamination of his life. He now regrets never having fathered a child. Paul's life is further complicated by three unusual women.

He hires a Croatian lady, Marijana Jokic, as his day nurse and aid. He is attracted to and dependent on the much younger Marijana. Although she is married and has three children, he lusts for her. He offers to act as a godfather for Marijana's children and provide funds for their education. Drago, Marijana's oldest child, lives with Paul for a while. Drago and his father build a customized cycle to convey Paul, but the crippled man doubts he will ever ride it.

Paul has a single sexual encounter with a woman blinded by a tumor. Her name is Marianna. He is blindfolded during the affair and pays her afterwards. A novelist with a weak heart, Elizabeth Costello, intrudes on Paul. The elderly woman is mysterious. She pesters him, occupies his apartment without an invitation, and peppers him with questions. In time, all three females fade from his world, leaving Paul still struggling to adapt to loss and a new life.


The protagonist's accident is physically and emotionally crippling. The early chapters of the novel are particularly effective in conveying the wide range of emotions experienced by the main character at the time of his accident, immediately preceding and following his surgery, and during his rehabilitation. These feelings include shame, anger, self-pity, panic, and dependency.

The protagonist's self-examination leads him to conclude that he has squandered much of his life and been guilty of indifference. The process of coping with and adjusting to the loss of a leg raises some weighty questions that might be relevant to anyone dealing with a major disability. Am I still myself? What are my limits? Who will care for me?

The story is useful in discussing how medical decisions are sometimes based on the age of a patient, how disabled individuals can become infatuated with their caregivers, and how medical consent is procured. The protagonist senses that the kindness of doctors and nurses may actually mask their lack of sympathy regarding the outcome of the patient's problem.

He also perceives that touching is an indispensable human act. Time and motion play essential roles in the novel. For those who are sick and wounded, time is "like a wasting disease" (11). Time drags, gnaws, and even devours. Yet time also offers the hope of recovery and the promise of the future. Movement, even when slow and awkward, is crucial to revitalization.



Place Published

New York



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