In this story one of the members of a group dies, thus freeing up her long time partner. The majority of the book is the maneuvering that the characters do to take advantage of this free relationship slot, and see it filled according to their desires or what they think is best. The various concerns are as devious and interconnected as any game of Diplomacy. Reading this book it is hard not wonder whether Britain conquered half the world because it's citizens were so conniving, or whether that trait is a result of their imperial experience. As always Iris Murdoch does a beautiful job of laying out a social graph at the start of the story, just a wonderful flood of info and characterization.