It's the midsummer ball at Oxford, and a group of men and women - friends since university days - have gathered under the stars. Included in this group is David Crimond, a genius and fervent Marxist. Years earlier the friends had persuaded David to write a philosophical and political book on their behalf. But opinions and loyalties have changed, and on this summer evening the long-resting ghosts of the past come careering back into the present.
The opening scenes of this charged and potent novel, Murdoch's 23rd, are flooded with gaily bedizened dancers at an Oxford Midsummer Night's ball. Couples in Shakespearean disarray chase and lose one another through the gardens. Gradually, a design becomes visible in the dense, chaotic weave of a slowly gathering fictional world. A male and female "brotherhood,'' bookishly inclined, give financial support to one of their number, the fanatic, red-haired, possibly mad writer Crimond. The friends worry about Crimond's mysterious, ongoing book. Is he a ``maverick Marxist,'' urging terrorism to revolutionize the world? Crimond, strangely attractive to both men and women, while scorning and exploiting the ``old dreamy continuum'' of the brotherhood (which resembles the human condition), seems evil incarnate. Jean adores him, however, and leaves her bear-like, devoted husband for him. The lovers are less hilariously depicted than the similarly self-glorifying adulterers in The Good Apprentice. Here the satire is somber, the sense of character both sinister and muffled. But religious myths, theatrics and games offer salvation in the rising spirit of glee that marks the novel's latter portion. The couples' joyous pairings and recovery of serene, humorous domesticity re-enact the solutions of dark comedy. Fertile in the arts of language, story and philosophy, Murdoch brilliantly entertains the robust reader. 35,000 first printing.