Nothing less than the meaning of life--""the message to the planet""--is the question that enthralls a typical Murdoch cast of disparate but vital characters, all living in an equally typical Murdoch closed world of metaphysics and philosophy. Marcus Vollar, a brilliant mathematician and thinker, had once irrevocably touched the lives of a group of friends--Alfred Ludens, an academic whose childhood had been blighted by his father's remarriage; Gildas Herne, a former priest; Jack Sheerwater, an artist and philanderer who is contemplating setting up a mâ€šnage â€¦ trois; and Patrick Fenman, an Irish poet. When Patrick, who hinted at a curse that Vollar once made, appears close to death from a mysterious disease, the friends encourage Ludens to find Vollar, who has not been seen for a while. Ludens finds the sage living in the country with his young daughter Irina. Vollar saves Patrick--some allege he has raised him from the dead--and Ludens devotes himself to Vollar in the hope that he can help him write the book that will reveal the cause of human existence and suffering. Meanwhile, Irina, who believes her father is mad and quite incapable of writing anything, removes him to an expensive clinic in the country, with Ludens in attendance. When a group of New Age ""Seekers"" learns of his miraculous cure of Patrick, Vollar becomes a cult figure of whom much is expected. Ludens, now in love with Irina, jealously tries to guard Vollar from the hordes of visitors who come to be healed or receive a sign. Obsessed with the problems of good and evil, his meditations on the Holocaust, and his own apparent magical power, Vollar writes a suicide note, but his heart gives out first. Though still an enigma, Vollar has in death again transformed the lives of all those who have known him--and allows a happier ending for Ludens and the friends. Murdoch writes with no apologies for the subjects she explores--and offers no shortcuts for the intellectually indolent. A long (640-page) but bracing read by a novelist whose art continues to touch the heart and challenge the mind.