Absolute contradiction seemed at the heart of things and yet the system was there, the secret logic of the world, its only logic, its only sense."" Thus Garth -- the thinker, quester, do-gooder of lris Murdoch's new and ambitious novel (gone is the bizarrerie -- gone the symbolism) -- tries to reconcile contingency and certainty which is more simply illustrated by his father, Austin, who is the ""accidental man."" Namely a victim and a failure. But there are also accidental women (one attempts to take her life; one dies) and do these things happen in the presence or absence of God? And are people like Garth, or his uncle Matthew now returning from the East to be an instrument of change, accountable? These are the larger issues here circulating between not only Austin and Matthew (brothers with a sibling hatred) but also Charlotte and her sister (their relationship is also unresolved) and Mavis and Dorina, again sisters whom Miss Murdoch contrives (we repeat -- contrives) to keep moving in and out of an affectless relationship with brothers Austin and Matthew. Stylized it of course is (cf. the brilliant closing pages), mannered too, but ""manners are modes of being"" which often appropriate this world of mind, matter and spirit. If you notice an absence of heart it may well be because ""Love belongs to the ideal"" -- a seemingly unobtainable ideal in all of Miss Murdoch's books which subsist at other levels.