It presents stories about Svengali men, and radical women who outmanoeuvre them, about destructive marriages and curdled friendships, about mothers and sons, about moments which change or haunt a life. A wife and mother, whose spirit has been crushed, finds release from her extraordinary pain in the most unlikely place. The young victim of a humiliating seduction finds an unusual way to get her own back and move on. An older woman, dying of cancer, weaves a poisonous story to save her life. The long title story follows Sophia Kovalevsky, a late nineteenth-century Russian emigree and mathematical genius, as she takes a fateful winter journey that begins with a visit to her lover on the Riviera, and ends in Sweden, where she is a professor at the only university willing to hire a woman to teach her subject.