The (ungendered) narrator ruminates over the meaning of love, and reminisces about time spent with Louise, a now-lost lover. These reminiscences and musings are interspersed with tales of other past lovers and remembered incidents with them.
The narrator is living with Jacqueline when he/she meets Louise: beautiful, flame-haired, Australian, married. Her husband is Elgin, a cancer specialist with a complicated family background.
Louise and the narrator fall in love. The narrator breaks up with Jacqueline, who promptly locks him/her out of his/her own flat. The narrator spends the night with Louise and in the morning returns to her/his flat, to find it has been wrecked by Jacqueline. The narrator has a fight with Jacqueline. Louise moves in.
Elgin drops the verbal bombshell: Louise has cancer. Elgin tells the narrator that he can provide Louise with cancer treatments money can’t buy, treatments that will prolong her life, but only if the narrator promises to break up with her.
The narrator leaves Louise a goodbye note, packs a bag and takes a train to Yorkshire. S/he gets a job at a trendy wine bar and moves into a broken-down house in the countryside. The narrator takes in a stray cat and grieves for Louise.
The narrator becomes obsessed with anatomy textbooks and writes about the human body and Louise in beautiful, lyrical prose.
The narrator takes bar manager Gail home but fails to make love to her. The narrator continues to pine for Louise, and is disgusted by Gail.
Gail tells the narrator that leaving Louise was cowardly and a mistake. The narrator travels to London to search for Louise, and fails to find her at the flat, her mother’s house, or Elgin’s home. The narrator has a fight with Elgin, leaving him bleeding and in need of a doctor.
The narrator stays in London for six more weeks, muses on love and death, frequents old haunts, and then returns to Yorkshire.
Arriving home, the narrator finds Gail inside, and discovers that changes have been made to the house. The narrator mourns the fact that s/he couldn’t find Louise.
Louise appears around the kitchen door, paler, thinner, but alive.
We do not know if this is a happy ending, but it is a new beginning.