Doris Lessing explores the lives of her parents, both of them irrevocably damaged by the Great War. Her father wanted the life of an English farmer, but shrapnel almost killed him in the trenches, and thereafter had to wear a wooden leg. Her mother's great love was a doctor, who drowned in the Channel, and she spent the war nursing the wounded. In the fictional first half of the book, she imagines the happier lives they might have led if there had been no war. The second half is a piercing examination of their relationship as it actually was.