“To love and to lose is sad. To never love again, is a tragedy.”
In November of 1979, David Elliott, 32, learns the truth in his father’s words. Likeable and quick-witted, David works at Wyndlan, his father’s farm in southern England, and he struggles to keep it prosperous. His long hours there are a flashpoint in his stormy relationship with his French girlfriend.
While at the local pub, David chats up the new barmaid in town, a feisty Canadian girl. She proposes marriage to him as soon as they meet in an attempt to extend her visa. Though David normally dreads commitment, he delights in the preposterous idea of marrying someone who does not care about his station in life.
His French girlfriend overhears the proposal. After experiencing her plate-flinging temper once again, he collects his clothes from her front lawn and takes refuge at the dairy of his best mate, before moving back to Wyndlan, a working grange/manor house and his boyhood home.
He and his brother manage the farm for their ailing father and stepmother. His stepbrothers complicate his life: the older one is full of get-rich-quick schemes and the younger one is on an endless pub-crawl. His stepbrothers’ father, a bitter local magistrate, still blames David’s father for stealing his wife and sons.
David suspects the magistrate of hiring the solicitors, but dare not cross him. He threatens to close the leased sawmill at Wyndlan on trumped-up safety charges. That would allow his alcoholic son to own the only sawmill in the county..
David seems to be driving women out of the country. His French girlfriend flees to France to avoid him, while the barmaid books a trip to Germany to renew her visa for a few weeks. The Canadian, fearing her attachment to David, does not wish to see him when she returns. Marriage is no longer a joke to her.
David’s wretched love life is all-consuming to him until he returns to Wyndlan one night and finds his father dead. His responsibility increases when he inherits the lion’s share of the farm with the remainder split between his brother and stepbrothers.
David is devastated by his father’s death. At the funeral, he thinks he catches a glimpse of his long-estranged mother. Alone at Wyndlan, he struggles with his grief. In desperation, he reaches out to his French girlfriend, who extends an invitation to visit with her in France. He accepts.
Though David and his girlfriend make love, the relationship quickly deteriorates. She suggests he sell Wyndlan and move to London with her. Furious, it is David who hurls the plates this time. His brother’s phone call interrupts him. Someone who claims to own a share of Wyndlan has surveyors staking out the front lawn for a caravan park. David does not know that Warner tricked his younger son into signing over his inheritance in Wyndlan before David’s father ever died.
David embarks in a harrowing drive across France to reach Wyndlan. He arrives at the ferry terminal to find the crossing cancelled by a gale. His frustration is tempered when he discovers the Canadian spending the night at the ferry building, lacking funds for a hotel room. He invites her to dinner and a hotel. She accepts the dinner.
Strangers in a foreign country, they exchange secrets. David tells her of his long lost son from an affair eight years ago. She confesses that she is adopted and lost a child in childbirth. She reluctantly shares his room that night, and ends up in his bed. That complicates their return to England almost as much as the legal papers David receives from the magistrate. He now owns Wyndlan. David cannot bear the thought of losing the farm his father worked so hard to give him. If his father could only whisper in his ear. . .