The story of an English family is told through the experiences of its mothers and children over the last eighty years. The book opens with Damson being raped in India during her Gap Year in the 1980s. She runs away, goes up to Cambridge to train as a medical student and discovers she is pregnant. The plot then goes back to Sarah in 1938. Desperately bored by her mother’s snobbish inertia she learns to cook and then becomes a VAD, falling in love with a doctor who treats wounded soldiers in her requisitioned family home. They have a fragile daughter, Melissa, who emerges into womanhood during the 1960s, marries a lonely and unhappy young man as shy as herself, and in turn produces another daughter – Damson. One after another, these mothers and daughters fail to understand and help each other until the third, Damson, is given a second chance.