Mungo's wife is the extroverted and excessively cheerful Bess, too busy cracking jokes or playing whist to give her husband's misery any sympathy and dismissing his vague intellectual, imaginative and amorous ambitions as pointless dreams. Mungo finds himself bound to her not so much by love and loyalty as by the many trivial commonplaces of married life. When Bess is stricken by cancer, Mungo sees an opportunity for him to escape both his loveless marriage and his tyrannical conscience. As Mungo seizes this chance, his actions have far-reaching effects which he had never imagined; his eldest son follows his father's example into betrayal and abandons his pregnant girlfriend; his eighteen-year-old daughter becomes emotionally numb to the situation; his younger son, just twelve-years-old, develops an intense hatred towards his father and turns his back on the family, moving away to live with relatives. Mungo is left looking at the pieces of his broken family. The readers are pulled into a story which has well drawn characters, a strong sense of place and real people involved in real situations.
The complex themes of betrayal and conscience are explored by Jenkins with precision and with a delightfully wicked sense of humour.