The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, which charted the broken hopes of a middle-aged spinster, met with an impressive critical reception last year. This second novel, which is a repeat performance, transposes only the sex of its central character, but again succeeds in developing an authentic tragedy out of the sorry, shabby figure of man and the drab circumstances of his life. Diarmuid Devine is 37 although he is indeterminately middle-aged in appearance, a bespectacled master in a boy's school near Belfast where Catholicism often lends an undue influence. Introduced to the niece of a jovial, paternal colleague, Tim Heron, Devine makes his first, gingerly advances to the girl- Una, secures a part for her in a play for the benefit of the Foreign Missions, discounts- although he does not altogether discredit- the rumor that she has had an affair with a married man in Dublin. His awkward devotion to her is embarrassingly returned one night when she comes to his room, in a lodging house, and he is unequal to the opportunity she presents. The scandal however spreads throughout the school, and after explaining the Feast of Lupercal (the feast of expiation) to a class of sniggering boys, Devine is finally enough of a man to clear Una in her uncle's eyes. After a harrowing, humilitating scene of self-abasement, he confesses not only his inexperience but also his impotence.... A substantially cheerless and occasionally malicious (certainly the whole drab world of Saint Michan's school and the precincts of the Catholic church which surround it are scored) portrayal, it is much to the novelist's credit that from a a stock figure of fun he has been able to create an object of infinite pity. This does not mean, however, that he will reach the general reader.