Iris Murdoch's "The Book and the Brotherhood" is a marvelously droll novel of manners that has the audacity to explore the philosophical and moral issues that have effectively paralyzed a group of '60s-era Oxford graduates. The novel opens, appropriately enough, at Oxford, where, in the shadow of their former classmates and professors, the friends have gathered some 25 years later for a Ball. The narrative follows the movements of the group in a Mozartian roundelay, as each is, in turn, humiliated by revenants that appear to mock the potential they have, with one notable exception, so ingloriously squandered. The title refers to a pact the graduates once made to underwrite a philosophical treatise to be written by David Crimond, the most charismatic of their set; to the consternation of each, however, it now appears that the book might actually become a reality, and the prospect of its publication leads the group to an orgy of self-reproach and soul searching. The event of the Ball also inspires one wife to leave her husband and to take up with Crimond, a decision that leads to unexpected complications in all their lives. The novel is full of comic and tragic moments whenever the principals, whom Murdoch likens to a chorus-line of snails, attempt to emerge from their shells. A second generation of thirty-somethings is headed down the same path of dalliance as their elders, or so it seems, until, in the final pages, Murdoch offer an affirmation, of sorts, in the form of a pending marriage. Readers familiar with earlier novels by the late Dame will not be disappointed by this weighty offering from 1987, which can only enhance Murdoch's already-secure reputation as one of the great novelists of her generation.