Eden Bellwether, an organ scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, has the idea he can heal through the power of music, but Wood raises the possibility that Eden has a Narcissistic Personality Disorder and is thus suffering from delusions about his powers.
The Bellwether family is characterized by both brilliance and eccentricity—and perhaps the two inevitably go together. Eden’s sister Iris is a medical student at Cambridge and a fine musician in her own right, a cellist rather than an organist, and she bounces between unflappable adoration of her brother and suspicion that he might be a pathological case study. One autumn evening, Oscar Lowe, a nurse’s assistant at a local nursing home, cuts across the King’s College grounds and is attracted by the sonorous sound of an organ. On this fateful evening he meets Eden and Iris. Despite their differences Oscar and Iris feel an immediate, quirky attraction for one another, and they quickly become lovers. Oscar, though highly intelligent and well read, has found for himself a path other than academia, but he feels himself drawn in by the undeniable charisma of the Bellwethers. His favorite patient at the nursing home is Abraham “Bram” Paulsen, a former distinguished professor of English, whose friendship with Herbert Crest, a brilliant psychologist, leads to a complicated and volatile mixture of personalities and motives. When Iris breaks her leg, Eden seems to heal her through a bizarre regimen of physical and musical therapy. Crest becomes intrigued with Eden’s putative powers, at least in part because the psychologist is dying of a malignant brain tumor, so his professional—and skeptical—motives become entangled with his personal ones, the latter characterized by Delusions of Hope, the book he’s desperately trying to finish writing before his death.
Wood moves the reader deftly through pastoral Cambridge, into the British upper crust, and ultimately into the mad mind of Eden himself.