Growing up in a small Scottish town during World War I, Gavin Hamilton comes into more than his share of hard knocks. His father is killed in Europe; he wins a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school--and performs brilliantly there--but when his mother dies soon after and his strict grandparents become his guardians, Gavin is yanked out; he becomes a clerk to a small-town lawyer. But does he complain? Not Gavin. He is the mildest of boys, the most pious and accepting of young men (despite being a demon soccer player), an unafraid man of integrity. He takes in and looks after a diseased and pregnant whore--thus causing gossip and losing Gavin a rich fiancÃ‰e. When England avidly goes to war, Gavin--to whom killing is unthinkable--resists the popular mood and declares himself a conscientious objector: he's sent off to do forestry, as alternative service, in the Ardmore Forest--where even the other ""conchies"" find his purity a bit much. And to the book's end, Gavin lives and works apart from the others, having gradually cast-ironed his ideal of never being beholden to anyone, never tainted by the world's compromises. Jenkins (Fergus Lamont) refuses to provide even the slightest gradations in the dramatic slope up which Gavin has to roll his saintly barrel, finally leaving us puzzled about what's intended. Is this merely a portrait of an impossibly good man? A parable? Or possibly, less intentionally, a novel that somehow missed a crucial opportunity for conflict? You don't ever really know, and the not-knowing takes away some pleasure from this intriguing import--which is otherwise often a dignified, stately, and eerie book.