A short but inspiring and moving novel, a love story with three principal characters, elegaic and melancholic and yet celebratory and joyful also, this is, at bottom, an ode to a woman. Its tenor is sentimental yet wise, combining rational intelligence with a deeper emotional instinct. As such it has something of the robust yet vulnerable wisdom of one of Saul Bellow's later novellas. Its narrator is a man in his mid-forties, a scholar of ancient philosophy known to us by his nickname of Hoo, whose wife Mellie has left him for reasons that only become clear in the course of the novel. Hoo and Mellie have known each other since going to high school together in New York in the 1950s - or perhaps, as Hoo sometimes feels, for much longer than that. Only at the novel's end are we told where he is as he is writing it.