A wartime baby Alan Harwood grew up kwing one of his family apart from his mother. His feeling of shame at being illegitimate is heightened by his mother's secretive attitude to the past. He creates a father, a naval officer who died in the war, his sense of identity becoming dependent on this fiction, maintained even with Susie, his wife. Driven to prove himself worthy of her he becomes a highly paid salesman. Pressure to perform coupled with the advent of a man into his mother's life, brings emotional turmoil resulting in a dramatic rejection of this job. Work as a probation officer provides him with a more compatible and satisfying career. Susie has to adjust her expectations to fit the much reduced family income, forced to leave a fine modern home, and to postpone her desire for more than their one child. Always the outsider in his younger days, and in spite of Susie's affection, the feeling persists for Alan of being denied the fuller life he imagines enjoyed by others. He finds distraction in sailing and seeks fulfilment in sexual adventures. Kept secret from Susie is his involvement in a property development company whose project she campaigns against. The life he has established begins to crumble when he is caught in the entanglements of his affair with the wayward Olwen.