On a Mediterranean isle bathed in the delft-blue light of fable, a middle-aged Irish woman recuperates from what she believes has been her life's last sensual liaison in the city and encounters cautionary figures from a myth or dream, by the celebrated author of The Country Girls (1960), etc. The unnamed heroine here is herself a mythic figure, first met waking from a dream in a dark shanty on a strange island, to which she has fled--from what (a lover) the reader learns only later--by night. She hears a madman calling personal imprecations at her from outside a window and takes to the road, where she meets an ecstatic, lunatic painter, D'Arcy, who in a menacing way takes her under his wing. Madness, love, mockery, guilt and menace--these are the themes of O'Brien's first novel in 11 years, and she seems to suggest that they are the themes of any passionate woman's middle years. D'Arcy guides O'Brien's heroine to a posh resort hotel, where bought sensuality and a haunting chorus of puritanical whispers from servants and townsmen form the background for what will truly be our woman's final love: passion for a servant girl, half waif, half cherished ideal daughter, who in the end is murdered by her estranged husband amid cries of ""lesbos"" from the town. Before our woman flees, she thinks again of the indifferent male lover she has left behind and reflects: ""Death took root in me then, as for so many years love had, and to such excruciating purpose, but who in their right minds would not exchange love for death?"" A novel governed (perhaps too strictly) by the impulse to lyricism, but one that peers into the coming of old age with fear, longing--and passion.