Stevenson’s new novel exposes the façade of conventional society, where people are judged by their achievements and material goods. Alistair Langford, a successful London barrister, is a man of great pride who has built his career on his accomplishments, hiding a past he hopes will remain forever secret.
When Alistair is attacked after a dinner one evening with friends, the thugs who kneecap him are quickly routed by the authorities. When questioned, his attackers reveal a sordid dalliance, rending the careful fabric of Alistair's life, his blameless wife and family the beneficiaries of this shameful event.
As if her husband’s blatant infidelity were not enough, Rosalind Langford receives a call that her husband's mother has died. This call is yet another shock to Rosalind, who was told that Alistair lost his parents when he was young. After years of marriage, the carefully woven past Langford has assembled falls away, and he is forced to account for years of deception, all in service of hiding a history defined by poverty and a mother's questionable lifestyle. Deeply embarrassed and ashamed, Alistair has come to the moment of truth; whether he can own his mistakes and make amends to his wronged wife is another matter.
Alistair needs his son, Luke, to drive him to Dover to dispose of his dead mother’s effects. Luke, a self-styled partier, has been recently released from a short but passionate affair with a narcissistic actress. Luke is desperately foundering and cannot break free of his obsession with Arianne, convinced she will realize her mistake and return to him. Caught in her spell, Luke's vulnerability is painful to observe; he remains oblivious to Arianne's manipulations, a shadow of the former bon vivant.
While Alistair stays overnight in Dover, Luke drives the car home, stopping along the way to give aid to a couple of refugees from Kosovo, Mila and Goran, who are being threatened by a protest mob. It is through these characters that Stevenson artfully skewers the pretensions of the middle class, the "egocentric complacency Western money can buy." Goran is grateful for Luke’s help but soon becomes frustrated by his chronic insensitivity to others. Goran eventually detests Luke's simplistic self-indulgence, "he hated Luke for his pointless angst, which was the agony of privileged people."
Alistair's existence is defined by lies, infidelity and denial, his family passively absorbing the price of their position, a profoundly casual acceptance of middle class values and aspirations, assuming they are superior, untouchable, until the collapse of their false security.
Stevenson has a firm grasp of her characters, their flaws and nameless fears. Peeling away the distractions that shield each character, the author exposes the minutiae that fill every waking moment of their lives. In the end, everyone is vulnerable to fate's intervention, distractions crumbling before fear and self-doubt, a class-conscious society unmasked. This author wields her scalpel ruthlessly, precisely incising English sensibilities.