Brookner hurries to push together the few props filling the stage of her Jamesian stories of moral queasiness: a single woman (the mid-30s spinster who is almost always the Brookner narrator or center, here called Rachel) involved in the lives of others (here an older couple, Rachel's accountant and his wife, and their grown daughter Heather). Oscar and Dorrie, the couple, are rich all of a sudden, thanks to a lottery winning. (It's telling here that the windfall is offhand, blithe, a plot device of stunning crudity; a reader has no credible sense that Oscar would be a bettor, but to Brookner that means little--on she goes to the true business of meddling and self-righteousness.) All the wealth almost buys them Rachel, as a second daughter; Rachel, lonely but upright, enjoys the voluptuousness of taste and warmth that Oscar and Dorrie bring to their good fortune. Daughter Heather is an emotional yahoo in comparison--marrying first an epicene failure, then an Italian living in Venice with his mother. How to protect Heather's parents from Heather's emotional gaucheries becomes Rachel's crusade--with a sort-of-ringing endorsement of spinsterhood as a manifestation, above all, of pride; no mean equation, not to be scorned. But what about spinsterhood equaling priggishness? Brookner has never before seemed so tetchy yet wispy, filling the book with semi-clinical put-downs (""The lives of idle women fascinate me, and yet such women always bridle when you speak to them of your commitments, your plans, your calculations, as if you were casting aspersions on their own industriousness, which they will go on to demonstrate"") or noisome distinctions of correctness. The vulgarity of the world pains the Brookner protagonist no end--and the result, especially here, is pure starch.