After his wife's death, Hugh contemplates returning to his former mistress. His son, Randall, longs to abandon his shapeless marriage for a perfect partner. Randall's young daughter, Miranda, is adored by her Australian cousin Penn, but has attachments elsewhere. Her mother Ann has her own private dream, while taking upon herself the strains and pains of all the others. Impelled by affection, lust and illusion, these characters search for love within a tightly woven web.
"I suspect that when the intellectual map of our own times comes to be sketched out, Iris Murdoch will occupy a position analogous to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky... Murdoch writes better than anyone about the condition of being love: both the ecstatic joys of it and its capacity to turn otherwise decent individuals into monsters of selfishness and cruelty... Her vision of the world is heart-rending, but ultimately celebratory"