Set in Britain in the early to mid-1980s, the story surrounds the young gay protagonist, Nick Guest, who has come down from Oxford with a first in English and is to begin graduate studies at University College London.
The novel begins in the summer of 1983, shortly after Thatcher's landslide victory in the Parliamentary election of that year. Nick moves into the luxurious London home of the wealthy Fedden family. The son of the house, Toby, is his Oxford University classmate and friend, and Nick's stay is meant to last for a short time while Toby and his parents - Rachel, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, and Gerald, a successful businessman and just-elected Tory MP - are on holiday in France. Left at home with Nick is the Feddens' daughter, Cat, who is bipolar and whom the Feddens are reluctant to leave on her own. Nick helps Cat through a minor crisis, and when her parents return they suggest he stay on indefinitely, since Cat has become attached to him and Toby is getting a place of his own.