This rambling, essayistic novel deals with several lives in a small Mexican village, circa 1909. The village is dominated, suppressed and yet given its chief expression through religion. bells and festivals mark its hours and days; priests guide its customs and shrive its sins. But beneath this surface is an erupting struggle between old and new, between desires and conformity. Victoria, a woman visiting from the outside world, innocently touches off a whole complex: other women, long subdued, dream of freedom and escape; a young bell-ringer goes off with her to Spain; madness, unrest, and crimes of passion follow in her wake. Halley's comet and echoes of Revolution also affect the village, and the priests' creeds, households and spirits begin to crumble. A way of life is ending in chaos. The book is long, oblique in style, thoughtful rather than dramatic. Yet the atmosphere, and the overall picture of an outwardly simple world gives a powerful sense of history as determined not by ideas but by outer circumstance interacting with inner turmoil.