As the primary narrator of the novel, Theo’s perspective colors our understanding of all other characters. He is a skilled psychotherapist whose passion for his work stems from his own experiences as a patient. Raised by a deeply abusive father and an ineffectual mother who was unable to protect him from his father’s unpredictable and violent fits of rage, Theo felt that he would finally be free of his father when he left home for college. However, once there he found that his father’s abuse had left deep scars on his psyche that remained with him regardless of how far he traveled. Too paralyzed by his anxieties to make friends or attend his courses, Theo’s trauma leaves him unable to escape the long shadows of the past, an important theme in the novel. However, after an unsuccessful suicide attempt Theo meets Ruth, a grandmotherly psychotherapist who Theo credits with saving his life. His meetings with Ruth are so impactful to Theo that he decides to follow in her footsteps by training to become a psychotherapist.  

Despite his clear passion for his work, Theo persistently pushes the borders of professional and ethical conduct. The methods that he employs in his search for the source of Alicia’s silence, from interviewing her acquaintances to searching for clues, are more appropriate to a detective than a therapist. After he is barred by Diomedes from further attempts to reach out to Alicia’s friends and family, Theo disregards this direct order and continues to personally involve himself in the case. He shows little concern for the privacy or safety of patients at The Grove – in fact, he shows almost no interest in the other patients in the psychiatric ward at all. His deep but narrow interest in solving the case of Alicia clearly has more to do with his own needs than those of his patients.  

Theo is, throughout the novel, a deeply unreliable narrator, though the full extent of his distortions is only made apparent at the end of the novel, which reveals that he has been manipulating the narrative to conceal his direct involvement in Gabriel’s murder. Though Theo initially believes that his sessions with Ruth have helped him to overcome his trauma, the ease with which he slides back into negative and obsessive thought patterns and his reliance on others, especially women such Ruth and Kathy, to save him from himself, suggest that his healing is far from complete. At the end of the novel, Theo ruminates on the failure of his attempts to address his issues through psychotherapy, wondering if he was simply born evil. Through Theo, the novel questions whether or not past trauma can ever be fully overcome.