In this latest in Bawden's wry overviews of domestic games of deceit and desire, the narrator, a successful and honest copier of Old Masters, attempts to place the muddled particulars of his interaction with a quartet of impinging women in the ""raucous, rumbustious confusion of life"": ""In my mind's eye I see a number of circles, of watery bubbles, changing shape, shifting in and out of focus. . .connecting, contiguous, but each with its own. . .busy life. . .and secrets."" One by one, the painter--like his subjects, a volatile compound of kindness and obtuseness; acuity and stupidity--calls up the postures, posings and personalities of four women. There's mother Maisie, a ""Glamour Puss"" of the 1940's, who'd left her French husband--according to her sister Maud, a rogue of lofty background contrasting with Maisie and Maud's pub-owning London parents. Maisie had wept--but not inconsolably--upon the death of her generous second husband. Meanwhile, Aunt Maud, a miracle of upward mobility, author and lecturer, whose ""received pronunciation"" contrasts with Maisie's Cockney twange, loves fast cars, good whiskey, and playing the role of defender and protector (of a resentful sister, of a loved-one's wife) and is impervious, it would appear, to lasting hurt. The painter's first wife, Helen, his ""darling,"" will announce that she has a lover; and in boring, repetitious rows, the marriage ends, leaving the painter to ""edit"" his guilts. The second wife, Clio, whom the painter will come to detest, first arrives as a young housemaid with a child--a child who will later respond to his stepfather's pitying attention. Then at the center of the busy buzz of lives is the sad, stark simplicity of the painter and Helen's son Tim, a schizophrenic--drifting, suffering, and doomed. Has the painter, who ""cannot bear pain in people I love,"" diminished or dismissed them, in their tangles of little lies and oh-so convincing facades, while the real tragedy of Tim plays on? A fine, stylish novel that captures the evanescent nature of personality and private deceptions.