The novel alternates chapter by chapter between two narratives. They are both set in North West London and in Soho. The two stories are separated in time by about fifty years.
The earlier narrative starts in the mid-1950’s and ends around the end of the 1960’s. It follows Lexie Sinclair, an outspoken undergraduate, who abandons her university degree and her conventional family in Devon, in order to go to London to seek a more exciting life. She begins a relationship with an older man, Innes Kent, who is sophisticated and cultured, and who socialises with the bohemian crowd of artists who frequent Soho’s bars and galleries, and publishes his own arts magazine, Elsewhere.
Innes and Lexie quickly become passionately involved. She moves into his flat, and starts to work with him on the magazine. They are extremely happy, and Lexie seems to have found the challenge and purpose she has been looking for in her life. The only blight on their happiness is Innes’s estranged wife Gloria and his daughter Margot.
This period of Lexie’s life ends in tragedy. The story goes on to tell how Lexie works her way up to being a respected journalist, doing features on artists, and also covering world events such as the Paris riots. In the late 1960’s she has a child, Theo, and in the spirit of the times insists on remaining a single mother and living independently. The story follows her career and her relationships through until a further tragedy occurs whilst she is visiting Lyme Regis.
The second narrative is set in the present. It tells the story of Ted and his Finnish girlfriend Elina, who have just had a baby. The birth was traumatic, during which Elina nearly died. Both Elina and Ted struggle to come to terms with the shock of this experience, and to adapt to being parents over the weeks that follow their son Jonah’s birth. Elina is disorientated, and she suffers frightening ‘lapses’ when she cannot remember what she has just been doing, or even that she has a baby at all. For Ted, the experience has reawakened some disturbing early memories which seem to make no sense in the context of his family and his childhood. While Elina improves and regains a hold on her life, Ted becomes more unsettled and confused, as he wrestles with fragmented images from his past which will not fit together into a cohesive whole.
In the latter part of the book, the connection between the two narratives becomes clear, in a way that is harrowing, but also presents a path towards emotional healing for Ted and Elina.