While "in an unusually depressed moodiness", the protagonist, Arthur, seeks solace in the quietude of a cemetery. He falls asleep beside the grave of a Frenchman buried outside the fold because he committed suicide. Upon returning home, Arthur realizes that his face has changed. He is distraught and tormented.
Sheila, Arthur's lovely wife with a religious bent, is unable to support him emotionally. She is concerned with how this will look to the community, and becomes convinced that the change reflects some sin that Arthur committed, either consciously or unconsciously.
Alice, Arthur's 16 year-old daughter, loves her father and, unlike her mother, doesn't seem to notice the change in his face.
The Vicar is an old friend of the family. Always the optimist, he never gives up on Arthur. Yet when he comes to visit, he "forgets" to bring his glasses. Is he afraid of what he might see?
Arthur revisits the graveyard, thinking he might find some answers. There he meets Herbert, who lives nearby in a house out of the mainstream. Herbert is fascinated by Arthur's tale, and suggests that the dead Frenchman is trying to possess Arthur.
Grisel, Herbert's sister, is both curious and concerned about Arthur. She is touched by his plight, and sincerely wishes she could help him. At one point, her support leads to a breakthrough, and Arthur feels a sense of hope. He is falling in love with her; does she love him?
In the end Arthur admits that, although he loves his wife and daughter, he was unsatisfied with his previous existence. Will he ever reconstruct his life and achieve happiness? Or, is he doomed, like the dead Frenchman, to forever be "an outcast from decent society"? The author reveals the subjective perceptions of each character, without forcing an external, so-called "truth" upon the reader.
Yes, there are a few pages of meaningless exposition I skipped, and the story ends abruptly, as if one suddenly had been awakened from a dream. But I was riveted by the relationships. Many questions are left unanswered, but that only strengthens the story, leaving the reader to ponder Arthur's fate. The ambiguity and uncertainty are quite haunting; so much better than if the story had been wrapped it up neatly with a ribbon.