For years, Canlilla Hill and Liz Nicholson have enjoyed quiet, uneventful summer holidays with Liz’s former governess, who is now a painter. Endless, idle mornings have been varied by simple domestic tasks, coffee and gossip under the mulberry tree, walks along country lanes, and shopping in the town; high points in the weeks they have spent together have been the annual fair and a picnic on a hilltop overlooking the town.
From the beginning of the novel, the three women realize that this holiday will be different from the others, though the reasons for the change appear only gradually. Superficially, the changes in each woman seem fairly obvious and undramatic: Liz is thoroughly preoccupied by motherhood and by the demands of her marriage to a busy, popular, domineering clergyman. Camilla, feeling estranged from her girlhood friend because of her new concerns and aware that her own life is dulled by uninteresting routine and by her own solitary habits and reserved nature, becomes obsessed by a handsome, vaguely sinister man whom she met at the train station. Frances is also different: she has aged noticeably in the past year; she has stopped painting delicate, tenderly sad and lovely pictures; and she is now vainly struggling to express her awareness of the violence and chaos in the heart of even everyday life. Each woman feels some disappointment in herself, in the other women, and in life itself.
The events of the novel form a pattern in which the male characters repeatedly enter and leave the scene, each participating briefly in the life of one of the women before returning to his home (in Arthur’s case) or to the Griffin hotel (in the case of the other two), only to reappear and impinge once again on the lives of one or more of the other characters.
The book opens with an act of violence and turmoil. A shabby, unnamed, almost unnoticed man leaps from the footbridge over the railroad tracks as the train passes underneath....
(The entire section is 804 words.)