Laura de Winter is a twenty-year-old girl from Leiden, a small city in Holland. She cocked up her first year in uni because she was not really interested in philosophy, her subject, and she went to too many parties, spending way too much time on numerous boyfriends. She has now taken the year off to think about what she wants in life.
Call to Adventure and Response:
Krystina Goldman, an old friend of her mother, happens to be in Holland in the summer and offers Laura a job as an au pair in London. Laura is very impulsive and says yes immediately. The next month, she moves to Mrs. Goldman's penthouse on Old Marylebone Road to take care of Rafi Goldman, the two-year-old son.
The Goldmans are a Jewish family, and every Friday night they have a big dinner with all the family members who happen to be in the neighbourhood. As their au pair, Laura is invited too. This is how she meets David, Rafi's eighteen-year-old cousin. He's handsome, cheerful and in his last year of college.
Although Laura is two years older than David, Mrs. Goldman encourages him to take her out and show her the city. They share a great sense of humour and fall in love, but they both know it's not meant to be. Laura will move back to Holland after her gap year, and what's more: she's a shiksa, a non-Jewish girl David can only date until he is ready to get married to a Jewish woman. They laugh over it, but secretly, David's jokes about her being a goy do make her a bit insecure.
David is very fond of the soft parts of her body and touches them whenever he gets the chance. He even squeezes her legs under the table during the family dinner parties. She likes his attention, but she can't help but think she is the fattest girl he has ever been attracted to. She decides to lose weight by exercising and banning sugar from her tea.
The Threshold Guardian:
That's when she starts to hear voices. Every time she drinks her tea, she hears a very thin voice complaining in Dutch that there's no sugar in it. At first she thinks she is imagining it.
David says in a joking manner that one would almost think she was Jewish because of her voluptuous body. She is very unhappy about this and decides to cut back on food more drastically. The voice starts protesting louder and she discovers it comes from her second upper molar tooth.
She doesn't dare to tell anyone about it, for she fears they will think she is a nut case, but she doesn't doubt the voice is real. He is asking for sweet food continuously, up to the level that she often can't hear what people are saying when they are talking to her.
Trials and Helpers:
The only way to shut the tooth up is by eating something sweet. She's afraid other people, like David, will hear the voice too and starts carrying around sugar free chewing gums to satisfy her tooth in case of emergency. At first, these seem to do the job, but soon she can't trick the molar any more. She has to seek refuge to real sweets.
Laura visits a dentist and tells him the molar tooth hurts. He can't see anything wrong with it and tells her to floss and change to another brand of toothpaste. When she leaves the dentist's practice, she suddenly hears a lot of voices in her head. All her teeth are yelling at her in Dutch that the dentist has hurt them and they demand that she does not change toothpaste.
In vain, she tries to shut them up using aspirin. She locks herself up in her room, cancels her date with David and and tells Mrs. Goldman that she cannot take care of Rafi because she is ill.
After a while all the voices are quiet again, except for the molar tooth who is asking for sugar and his neighbour, who is nagging for greasy food. Their whining keeps her awake, so she sneaks into the kitchen to fetch something to eat. Mrs. Goldstein catches her in the kitchen with a spoonful of Nutella in her mouth and warns her that she will get fat if she entertains such eating habits.
When Laura gets back to her room, another voice emerges. It encourages her to throw up so that she won't get fat.
The next day, David drops by with a box of chocolates. She eats them during his visit to keep the voices down and throws up again as soon as he leaves.
Laura considers going to a psychologist, but, before she meets her GP to explain her concerns, she finds out the voices are not imaginary. When she is cuddling Rafi, it turns out the toddler can hear them too. She tells him it is their little secret and decides to keep her problem to herself because other people would definitely think she's mad.
When Mrs. Goldman says Laura is setting a bad example for Rafi, eating all the time, Laura bursts out crying and almost tells her employer about her problem but holds back at the last moment.
The voices are fighting so loud that she can't sleep at night. She tries to focus on her lower left canine. It is telling her they will shut up if she smokes a cigarette. She has no sympathy for smokers whatsoever. It's an unhealthy, disgusting habit. However, she can't bare listening to the voices any longer and steals a cigarette from Mr. Goldman. When she smokes it out of her window, she finds out her lower left canine was right. The next day, she buys a pack of cigarettes and smoking becomes her ritual to fall asleep.
Since she keeps giving in to the demands of her teeth, she is getting bigger. She doesn't feel comfortable any more making love to David. One day, after a romantic dinner, Laura is giving him a blowjob, when the voices encourage her to bite him. She stops and with tears in her eyes she breaks up with him, muttering something about not wanting to be an in-between-girl to him.
He tries to get back in touch with her, but she avoids him. She asks Mrs. Goldman if she can be excused from the Friday night dinner parties. Mrs. Goldman replies she is worried about Laura since Rafi says she talks to herself with her mouth closed. She also says she has called Laura's mother and told her about this. Laura's parents are coming to London to pick her up and take her back to Holland that Friday night.
In Holland she recovers quickly. The voices are quiet, she stops smoking and she manages to get back to her old weight within a couple of weeks.
Then she receives a letter from David. He writes that he doesn't believe in God and doesn't need to marry a Jewish woman. He admits that he has never really seen her as a shiksa, that it was only banter. In fact, he has never loved anyone in his life as much as he loves her, and he begs her to take him back because he doesn't think he can have as much fun with anybody else.
Laura realises she feels the same way about him.
The next year, they both get into Brunel University and live close together on campus. At first, nothing is wrong, but after fresher's week, the voices start again. She runs to the corner shop and tries to shut them up by smoking and eating, but they are relentless.
Then she returns to her halls. With pliers, she pulls out her teeth one by one, naming each bad habit that she does not wish to give in to.
A couple of years later, Laura is sitting in front of a mirror and removing her make-up. She hears David singing in the shower and smiles at her beautiful reflection. She's got everything she ever wished for: she's married to Mr. Right; she's got a challenging job in PR, and she's living in a beautiful apartment in London. And, after she pulled out her teeth, she never heard the voices again. Then she puts her false teeth in a glass of water and realises that she is just like her dentures. By emigrating and marrying David, she has removed herself from her Dutch background, and with extracting her talking teeth, she has chopped off her roots in her native soil. Though she is welcomed in both the English society and David's family, she knows she will never be a real Brit nor an original Jew. She is shiny and she's happy. No one cares about it and neither does she, but she is a fake, a rootless sham.