In 1914, when Nicandra is eight, all is well in the grand Irish estate, Deer Forest. Maman is beautiful and adored. Dada, silent and small, mooches contendedly around the stables. Aunt Tossie, of the giant heart and bosom, is widowed but looks splendid in weeds. The butler, the groom, the landsteward, the maids, the men - each as a place and knows it. Then, astonishingly, the perfect surface is shattered; Maman does something too dreadful ever to be spoken of.
'What next? Who to love?' asks Nicaranda. And through her growing up and marriage her answer is to swamp those around her with kindness - while gradually the great house crumbles under a weight of manners and misunderstanding.