The paradox players, cop-outs, drop-outs from the conventional world have their own little game, but the up card is always a loser. They're a raffish group of misfits and rejects now living on the Thames on boats which have also seen better days, caulking themselves off from the rest of the world which only offers ""the telly and a tin box on wheels."" Joining them is Sym, a writer more or less manque, bruised by the failure of his books and his marriage. Now he falls in love with Cassie, a somewhat older, sensuous and evasive woman who disappears at intervals and finally for good. Miss Duffy has managed before, out of alienated, alienating circumstances (The Microcosm) to extract considerable sympathy which is part of this book's appeal; however existential the ethos, these people, in their default, in their defiance, are likable. But what comes across with an unaccommodating reality are the physical facts of existence through the desolate winter. . . spiders overhead, rats all around, scum below, and a pervasive chill.