A novel by a French intellectual explores the approach to and disappearance over the horizon of death through the experience of one Palabaud as recorded by the philosophic yet professional doctor-friend of his youth, who speaks for the man. Palabaud had lived happily in Polynesia, where he ran the South Seas Hotel and bar-kept and was happy with the vahines until a doctor told him the illness which tormented him was an enlarged liver. Realizing these simple words held his death sentence, Palabaud accepted the inevitability of his end despite doctors' evasions -- and in so doing, he passed into the land of the dying, looking on the world as a departing stranger would. He returned to Paris, from which he had voyaged years before, and sought old experiences, some revived by the passing of an old priest who had beat him and helped oust him from college for sex experience in his youth. The doctor-narrator philosophizes, reminisces, arranges Palabaud's acceptance in a hospital where he dies peacefully and tended, and watches his autopsy. In the end, after all his contacts with the man, he feels he knows but one thing of him -- that he loved the sea, eternal mirror of man's ephemeral folly. A corrosive current of irony appears, exemplified by the disease that takes a non-drinking man. There is an assertive preocupation with decay as the author calls up the mingled elements of life and death in many guises, a pervasive imagery and probing of sensations, an element of anti-clericalism.