The novel begins in 1942 as 15-year-old Danny Martin is helping with "The Harvest," title of the first chapter. He is terrified by a low-flying German bomber and repelled by the more localized violence against rabbits that have become trapped in the center of a field as the circles of the reaper grow nearer. The chapter ends with his retreat into a beech wood, "innocent, already in exile..."
The second chapter, "Games," takes place in the early 1970s, in
The third chapter, "The Woman in the Reeds," takes place in a third time period, when Dan was attending
"An Unbiased View" is written by Jenny as a contribution toward Dan's novel. The chapter describes the world of filmmaking as well as how they met, and how she found him attractive because she could not read him easily. "The Door" picks up with a telephone call from Jane, who tells Dan that her terminally ill husband, Anthony, wants to see Dan before he dies. Dan is stunned, and the next chapter, "Aftermath," helps to account for his reaction. After they had returned from their
"The Umbrella" returns to Dan's boyhood in the 1930s, as Dan describes how the son of a vicar grew into an atheist. Allusions to Citizen Kane help to emphasize Dan's father's lack of demonstrative love for his son. The next chapter, "Gratuitous Act," describes Dan and Jane's sexual intercourse in Dan's room at
"Tarquinia" provides another reminiscence of the
In "Rencontre," Dan meets Jane for dinner, and in "Crimes and Punishments," he recalls how a play of his with obvious parallels in their lives had led to anger all around and a letter from Anthony that wrote him out of their lives. Now, in "Catastasis," Dan goes to the hospital to meet Anthony and finds that Jane long ago told her husband of her gratuitous act, with Dan. Anthony explains that they have had a somewhat bloodless relationship in their marriage, due in part to his religiosity, and he wants Dan to be a friend to Jane when he is gone. After he leaves, in "Jane," Dan takes Jane to dinner, where she explains why she is thinking of joining the Communist Party. When they return to Jane's house, in "Beyond the Door," they learn that Anthony committed suicide shortly after Dan left. In "Webs," NelI arrives with Andrew, whom she has married, and their daughter Rosamund. Dan and Caro drive back to
Jenny writes "A Second Contribution," which describes her view of Dan's Jewish friends Mildred and Abe and of Dan, whose discussions have enabled her to see that he is in love with loss, and that his seeming untypicality is really what is most typical of the English: their ability to hide their true selves from others. "Interlude" provides a narrator's view of Dan, who does expect to lose women, and illustrates Dan's life with a "fable" about twin sisters, Miriam and Marjory, whom Dan allows to move in with him; they are unsophisticated (except as sexual partners), but Dan genuinely likes them. At the end of the chapter, they have moved away, and Dan is haunted by their loss.
In "Hollow Men," Dan meets Barney for lunch, and they discuss his life, including Caro. At breakfast the next day, in "Solid Daughter," Caro tells Dan that Jane thinks him to be two persons, and Caro suggests that he does not want her to know him either. The topic leads Dan to write "The Sacred Combe," about why Robin Hood is the perfect myth for
In "Rituals," Dan meets with David Malevich, his producer, about their next film project, and David suggests that Dan visit possible shooting locations in
"Tsankawi" is another reminiscence, of a visit to an archeological site in
In "Westward," back in
In "A Third Contribution," Jenny describes a supposedly fictional but extremely detailed sexual liaison with her costar, Steve. When they talk by telephone again, in "The Shadows of Women," she apologizes for having sent it.
Jane and Dan arrive in
In "North," Dan feels depressed. After they arrive in
In the last chapter, "Future Past," Dan meets Jenny in a