Highly intellectualized yet fundamentally banal doings in a British university town--as a small ice-skating party becomes the occasion for sexual tensions, marital flashbacks, and murmurings about life, art, feminism, and the Bomb. Anthropology prof Michael Lovage is leading a group of skaters across a floe to a quaint village, where food and festivities will ensue. But, along the way, through memories and uneasy little moments, everyone's inner malaise is aired. Michael's wife Viola is the prime brooder: she feels the growing distance from her 17-year-old son Timmo, an erstwhile soul-mate (now a sexual creature with a passion for science); she recalls her courtship and marriage with Michael, her growing dissatisfaction with ""his commitment to the larger principle above the personal one"" (during a Pacific-isle field study, he wouldn't act to stop a human sacrifice); and she teases out ""the strands of meaning"" in her postgraduate-dissertation subject--Gerard David's diptych, The Judgment of Cambyses. Also on the trip, however, is sickly-looking student Katy, Michael's secret mistress--who recalls her beloved father's death, her affair with the strangely uninvolved Michael (""resentment of his impassivity grew inside her""), her possible pregnancy, her longing ""to find belief"" in something. And when the group--which also includes Viola's homosexual chum Jimmy (with his new, young, streetwise lover) and an elderly professor--starts eating and drinking, the sexual/Oedipal tensions explode predictably: Viola begins to suspect the Michael/Katy affair; Katy and Viola move from jealousy to mutual sympathy; Timmo seduces a willing Katy (to protect his mother but also to come-of-age); and Michael rages--while warm, wise Viola seems prepared to forgive him. Unengaging people, strained psychological patterns: a less successful attempt at idea-heavy fiction than Warner's uneven but often-haunting In a Dark Wood (1977).