The ""beano"" is the annual seaside picnic of the employees of the Britlings Imperial XXX Brewery, a provincial English ale maker, and (in this case) it makes a pleasant excuse for a series of vignettes about life and love in England just before the outbreak of WW I. The time is July 1914; the place: a suburban railroad station where old maids, amateur trombone players, socialists, nervous supervisors, wives with airs, and animal lovers gather to head for the sea, where they hope their lives will change. (""That's why heanos are good for us. Go away and we can be someone else. Come back home and find all your questions answered."") Their lives do change--of Bess, Edna and Ada, bottle washers, suffragettes and best friends, for example, one falls in love before the trip is over; and Miss Tidmarsh, an old maid from the front office whose father disapproves of her habit of occasionally looking in the mirror, receives a shocking, liberating glimpse of her own character, to mention two of 20 such small epiphanies. What makes the novel poignant is that lives will never again change in such small, measured, orderly ways as they do here, just before the Archduke Ferdinand is shot and killed, and, when the beano is over, the brewery's marching band is recruited to march to Verdun. Sweet, pleasant froth.