Brilliantly interweaving the events that have defined, and sometimes shattered, modern times with the extraordinary adventures of colorful characters, this novel is at once an autobiography of the fictional Aldous Cotton, an English civil servant with breathing problems and chronic sexual difficulties, and an erratic history of England in the latter decades of the twentieth century. It is also the story of Helen. A tiny, blond, serious girl when she first meets the narrator during a summer vacation in Normandy, Helen has set as her goal a morally satisfying life. Yet she continually finds herself in situations neither satisfying nor moral, from the mining boom in Central Africa to the child abuse scandals of the late 1980s. Caustic but irresistible in her innocence, a modern female Candide, Helen everywhere leaves her mark, for no one else's life is quite the same once she's passed by.