When aspiring novelist Christopher Flinders drops out of university to write his masterpiece (in between shifts as a fish delivery man and builder's mate), his family is sceptical.
But when he is taken up by the London editor Owen Goddard and his charming wife Diana it seems success is just around the corner. Christopher's life has so far been rather short of charm - growing up in an unlovely suburb, with unambitious parents and a semi-vagrant brother - and he is captivated by his generous and cultured mentors. However, on the brink of realising his dream, Christopher makes a desperate misjudgement which results in disaster for all involved. Shattered, he withdraws from London and buries himself in rural Yorkshire, embracing a career and a private life marked by mediocrity.
Twenty years on a young academic researching into Owen Goddard seeks him out, and Christopher is forced to exhume his past, setting him on a path to a life-changing discovery.