In May 2015, Caroline and Francis plan for a week away. Caroline has tentatively floated the idea of a house swap. Someone called "S Kennedy" has expressed an interest in Caroline and Francis's Leeds city-center flat and is offering their Chiswick house in exchange "if a suitable time can be found." Caroline is enthusiastic for a change of scene. There will be just the two of them; their son, Eddie, will be staying with her mother. The Chiswick house is close enough to London for sightseeing day-trips and far enough from the city center to feel like a break from the city life.
Caroline has recently built up a series of emotional barriers to buffer her past. Moving between 2013 and 2015, Fleet invests much capital in Caroline's state of mind, detailing her affair with Karl, a work colleague. In these early scenes, we see a rattled, self-involved woman who decides to embark down the path of infidelity. It's as if something has been unlocked. Such is Karl's magnetism that Caroline is unable to concentrate on her work when she recalls the electric sensation of Carl's hands on her waist in the weeks "since that night at the bar."
Caroline is eight years Carl's senior, though she's hardly fantasy material for hm. Carl certainly fits Caroline's model of an unattached and uncomplicated younger man. Since the affair, Caroline has been trying to mend her ways. She loves Francis, but the two-hour drive to Chiswick is rife with things left unsaid. Now Caroline feels a sudden claustrophobic terror at being trapped in a strange house with her husband for seven whole days, a potential land mine she has to tiptoe around, avoiding anything that might explode the still fragile truce they have woven over the past two years.
How is Caroline going to survive in a place where she can't control her own world? Listening to her instincts, Caroline is perturbed by the empty Chiswick house, its rooms stripped back with nowhere to hide. The house has an unnatural perfection with its spotless surfaces and its regimented rows of crockery and accessories. A pulse of despair thuds through her body; there's a split second of inevitability before her memory hits and explodes, "too vivid to ignore." Caroline believes that befriending their neighbor Amber will help her reconnect with the world around her. As Caroline walks slowly back to Everdene Avenue, she sees in Amber a kind of kindred spirit: "If I could slip inside her body, I could bring that Caroline back to life."
The past twenty-two months have been ones of regrouping but also of suppression. Francis also struggles to do his duty as the proverbial man of the house, to be strong and supportive, to make Caroline happy. But they are both donning a mask of what is supposed to be for the benefit of the other. It's not just the lack of understanding and the sense of unfamiliarity that strains this couple; it's a tangled web of much larger lies that threaten to pull Caroline and Francis to their depths. Caroline recalls how Carl's words would send yet another jolt of electricity through her--savage and dirty, reflecting her "fierce pulse of need." She thinks of the enormity of plowing back into her past and the ugly truth of that night at Silver Birches hotel: "everything that has come from it and led us here."
Back in Chiswick, Caroline looks deeper, excavating the house, running her hands underneath sideboards and sofas and checking behind curtains. "S Kennedy" is just a name; it might not even be real. Francis thinks it's all a "bloody nightmare." Faced with his own issues (including an addiction to pills), Francis realizes too late that he's been misunderstood. As Caroline discovers the truth behind the house swap, she finds herself on the edge of something unreachable. The house unveils a series of clues, reminders of a past with Carl that means nothing to anyone but Caroline.
What does it mean to truly love, who you choose to take on the journey of marriage and infidelity? Though the book has hints of Fifty Shades of Grey, Fleet's tale is far more beautiful and fluid, upping the ante on what could have been just another tawdry psycho-sexual thriller. We all crave marriage's status and stability, but Fleet seems to be saying this is mostly an illusion. Shifting through Caroline's pain, both in the present and the past, Fleet roots for deeply floored heroine even as she attempts to expose the ugliness of her past.