Unlike the characters in this British novelist's adult fiction, these are all ordinary people, and no sleazy underworld or secret crime rears its head. Yet for boarding-school student Jane Rackham, both a letter from home announcing the premature birth of her mother's seventh child (and overlooking Jane's planned visit home next weekend), and best friend Audrey's consequent weekend invitation to her home in London, rouse nagging fears that something is wrong, ""that something ugly is poised to spring."" Andrea's viciously neurotic mother turns out to be ugly enough, lashing out at Jane more than anyone and making a disaster of the family dinner while son-in-law Gary comforts and admonishes Jane in the kitchen. Andrea, ashamed, blames Jane and breaks off their friendship, while Jane back at school becomes more and more desperately estranged from everyone. She phones for soothing, attractive Gary; when he drives to her aid she accidentally hits the headmistress' cat with his car; and from then on guilt about the accident becomes the focus of her abnormal agitation. Jane's unstrung overreactions throughout are odd and unsettling, and Gilbert allows readers no breathing room. In contrast, her ending is too all-settling, with the cat found alive, Mum and baby okay, and Jane, off home for the hols, at peace with Andrea and with her own feelings toward her family. Till then, effectively churned up if sometimes exasperating.