Nick moves into the household of the family of an Oxford friend,Toby, Toby's sister Catherine who has serious mental health problems, their wealthy mother, Rachel; and their father, Gerald, a newly-elected MP for the Conservative Party. After moving in Nick has his first gay relationship with a black council worker, Leo. Some time later he enters into a relationship with Wani, the son of a rich Lebanese businessman.
The book explores Nick's relationship with the Fedden family and the realities of his gay life, which the Feddens appear to accept but, in truth, reject and abhor. Nick dodges issues relating to his sexuality but the AIDS crisis presents dreadful dilemmas that Nick must confront head on.
Margaret Thatcher's political influence is felt throughout the novel and she appears at a Fedden party like some kind of super star. By the end of the novel the enchantment with "The Lady" is waning.
This book captures an era when gays had to live their private lives below the radar. Hollinghurst captures the hollowness of the Thatcher years and it echos long after the reader turns the last page.