In this coming-of-age of a young man in post-war Britain and France, we are given an insight into the series of events that transform the youth into a man. Partially deaf since the age of six, and finding it hard to keep up with his studies, Paul quits Oxford University mid-course and goes to France for a few months in the hope of improving his language skills. Living 'en famille' at La Refaudio with the Koenitz's and their five children, he comes up against the unpleasantness of M. Koenitz whilst finding himself drawing ever closer to Madame and to the Catholic Church. The break-up of the family means the end of his employment and an interruption to his growing attachment to Madame. His return to England sees him developing new relationships whilst working at various jobs which pave the way to his future career until an unpleasant event turns his life in a completely different direction.