This is a difficult book, as are all Murdoch’s novels. In it, we follow Charles Arrowby as he comes to terms with many men and women from his past, as well as his career in the theater. He is not an attractive character, being entirely self-centered. His world is rocked when he encounters his first love, Hartley, who coincidentally lives near where he has bought a house by the sea to live in while retired.
He is unable to see or hear Hartley as she is now, not the girl he loved in his youth. Ultimately, he kidnaps her but returns her to her husband. She tells him repeatedly that she wants to return home to her husband, but he has convinced himself that he has freed her, even as he holds her captive. She finally escapes him by leaving the country.
Along the way we meet different characters from his past, until the house is quite crowded. When Arrowby finally shakes them, he is left alone, to come to terms with who he is and the people he has hurt.