'Iris Murdoch is incapable of writing without fascinating and beautiful colour' The Times
Montague Small, an obsessive writer of detective thrillers, mourns his lately dead wife, who may or may not have been unfaithful to him. His attempts at meditation are a failure. He detests his fictional detective. His interest in his neighbour's difficulties and his neighbour's wife appear to be his only consolations after all. The neighbour, Blaise Gavender, is an amateur psychotherapist who has seen through himself. Has Blaise the courage to change his life and become an honest man? What is honesty in any case? Blaise's wife Harriet lives for love, love of her husband, love of her son. She if fond of Monty too. Emily McHugh is quite another matter. She too lives for love: for love and justice and revenge, aided and incited by her ambiguous friend Constance Pinn. Emily's son Luca, a very disturbed child, becomes the subject of a tug of war between two possessive women. Edgar Demornay, a distinguished scholar, also blunders into the fray; he adores Monty and falls in love with Monty's women. A deed of violence finally solves many problems. This is a story of different loves; and of how a man may need two women in such a way that he can be happy with neither. Sacred and profane love are related opposites; the one enjoyed renders the other necessary, so that the ever unsatisfied heart swings constantly to and fro.