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Holbach grew up in Auckland in the 1950s and 1960s. Belief in magic helped him to deal with the unhappiness of his early years until events left him feeling cursed. During adolescence, he places his faith in science and looks at religions the way others observe the behaviour of ants. He is slow to fall in love and when this does happen it ends badly. Misfortune prompts him to flee to London. The outlooks of the squatters he lives with challenge his middle-of-the-road beliefs.
Coincidences, some of which involve the Martyr of Solway painting by Millais, further unnerve Holbach. A fundamentalist sect tempts him and its attraction grows after he falls in love with the sister of its charismatic prophet. A battle rages in Holbach's head between rationalism and the urge to make a leap of faith. And how he is to explain the sect's euphoria-inducing blessings?
The novel deals with the inability to decide on beliefs, post-war New Zealand society, London's 1970s counter-culture and fetishes that range from a penchant for dental nurses and the obsession with beauty that Holbach shares with his mother.