Astrid's mother, Eve, is supposed to be writing the next in her series of "Genuine Articles", books that relate the lives of people who died in the second world war, but then carry on as though they had lived - which enables Smith to make some nice jokes at the expense of the biography industry. Eve's husband, Michael, is a philandering university teacher of literature; her son Magnus, thinks in mathematical terms and has done something terrible at school. Into this atomised family one day walks Amber, a thirtysomething blonde wastrel with no love of social niceties. She turns up on the doorstep claiming her car has broken down. Michael assumes she has come to interview Eve, while Eve assumes she is one of Michael's student mistresses; somehow Amber ends up staying with them in the rented cottage for several weeks. Everyone falls in love with Amber in a different way. But who is she, and what does she want?