Not long ago Iris Murdoch wrote an article in the Royal Journal of Philosophy to the effect that ethical studies must be postponed until we know more about psychology. Here she harps on both strings, playing with a florid variety of temperaments and consciences, as embodied in sybarites, penitents, con men, spirited and dispirited women, adolescents, a Dachau survivor, an occultist, and a neo-Calvinist hero investigating the suicide of his Foreign Office colleague. Intricacies of theme are amplified by intricacies of plot, which gains a real momentum, though never providing the suspense of The Unicorn or the irony of The Severed Head. The author's aggressively adjectival, over-interpretive voice rarely subsides... but then when she leaves her characters alone they say things like ""'You've got to relive this thing, Paula, and not just for Eric but for yourself.'"" It's decidedly second-rate Murdoch, pretentious and sententious; still, as a big, curl-uppable-with, very novelistic novel (not so easy to come by these days, after all) it will more than meet the demand.