The closer we approach, the more we hate and fear each other""- this is the premise voiced (and later substantiated) by Maxwell Birkett, headmaster of a rather venerable, dismal grammar school on an Island off the south coast of England. Except perhaps for Birkett, and for Zible Acutt - a corner, epileptic shopkeeper there, lovelessness is the general coalition of men and women on the Island who engage in moral, uncharitable censure. This, at the start, provokes the suicide of a young teacher- against whom homosexual allegations have been levelled, at the end, on Guy Fawkes night, -- the burning of ""mad Zibic's"" house, in which she is trapped. And, in between, these Islanders, with their revivalistic Tehernael religion, prove not so much that ""the ways of the Lord are turible"" but that they, in their ignorance, their superstition and their cruelty have put their faith to strange use....Miss Manning, an able and acute writer, is also susceptible to eccentricity and exaggeration (her cast of characters alone demonstrates this: Mr. Scantling; Mrs. , Mr. Morder; etc.) and her object lesson is as likely to estrange as entertain.