The novel begins as two men attend their former lover's funeral. Despite the fact that both men, Clive and Vernon, have since had several relationships and marriages, there is a distinct impression that Molly is the woman who had the most influence on their lives and was more important to them than anyone else. Vernon and Clive are best friends, and both vehemently disapprove of Molly's husband, finding him boring, and one of her other lover's, the Foreign Minister, Julian Garmony.
Both of the characters are very successful, Clive as a composer, and Vernon as a journalist/newspaper editor. As a result, it is perhaps understandable that they are rather self-involved. At first Clive appears to be more sympathetic as the artist that is out of touch with the world, but he uses his inspiration and art as an excuse to completely ignore another human in need, and feels self-justified about it.
Vernon, armed with recently discovered scandalous photos of the foreign minister, sets out to destroy the man's career with an expose. While Clive points out that by publishing these photos, Vernon will be villifying the man for something that shouldn't be wrong, Vernon believes he is pointing out the man's hypocrisy. After all, Garmony is an incredibly conservative family man to the media who engages in some of the behaviors he more or less speaks against.