British author Perriam (Born of Woman, 1984, etc.) is back, this time with a dense 480-page romantic novel of a woman's late coming-of-age as she attempts to balance her staunch medieval religious fervor with the loose, grimy life of modern London. After 20 years with the contemplative order of Notre Dame de Bourges, waiflike, self-effacing Sister Mary Hilary gives up the habit at age 39--only to Find herself helpless and straggling on the streets of London. Barely able to care for herself, Hilary finds a brief, horrible job as an attendant for a helpless, excrement-encrusted old lady, but quits when a kindly family takes her in like a stray puppy. Soon the slow-wheeling course of Hilary's first love/sex liaisons begins--from the ups and downs of intimate encounters with a homosexual massage therapist through deflowering by a modern priest at a ""Charismatic Conference"" to late-night meetings with a mister macho in his lighthouse. Along the way, masochistic Hilary accepts her hard knocks as appropriate punishment while sabotaging chances for her potential happiness. Renouncing relationships, then, Hilary chooses instead to mother a troubled, wayward eight-year-old boy. In the end, guilty Hilary, now lovelorn and God-less, continues to struggle against the tide of day-to-day hardships as she looks for new faith. A leaden, humorless narrative, with a self-flagellating heroine at the helm.