Set in the Gironde region of France, this bleak novel presents a three-sided conflict: the decadence of the flesh versus antiseptic renunciation versus a reverent embrace of life's possibilities. These qualities are embodied in Edward, a languid young drone; his sister, May, whose cowardice leads her to deny both her passion and her talent, and Claude, a pious young man who abandons the seminary to return to life as peasant-laborer. Like oil in water, these characters pass through each other's lives but never really interact. The eddies caused by their passage are soon calmed, and each proceeds to his destiny: to suicide, to a loveless marriage, to wholesome physical labor that forges a bond with the enduring land. Gerard Hopkins' translation captures the essence of Mauriac's style, but the text is littered with typos, including a description of Edward acting from "an access of zeal."