In her ninth novel, Lady Billington's subject is the spiritual yearnings of a young man to the manor born, and the result is a pale sendup of both worldly pursuits (Oxford, marriage, the British diplomatic service) and mystical Catholicism. Henry Hayes-Middleton, only son of a brilliant career diplomat and a secretive, half-French Catholic, spends his childhood years traveling from India to Egypt and other outposts of the crumbling British Empire, and wavering between identification with his commanding father and his passive, stylish mother. As Lord Middleton's career becomes grander and Lady Middleton becomes more mystical and remote, Henry mimics both more frantically: contemplating God while taking his foreign-service exams, marrying an Oxford classmate but then pursuing his career with such frenzy that he has no time left for her or for the daughter they give birth to. Eventually, after a divorce, a nervous breakdown, the death of his mother, the retirement of his father and an exchange of letters with a hapless Catholic priest, Henry finds a brittle comic salvation in being reunited with his teen-aged daughter, but the reader just scratches her head and thinks, What mean? Lady Billington treats her characters and settings with well-mannered, ironic dispatch that grows irritating and enfeebling long before Henry finds shelter from ""the garish day.