The novel is set in the West of England, over the course of one week in January 1942. Set against the background of a decaying English country-house tradition, the story follows Valentine Arbell and her two daughters, as they struggle to stand up for their existing lifestyle. Primarily a drama of character, events move swiftly under the compulsion of war conditions, and decisions are forced upon them all.
Born to Count Henry de la Pasture and his novelist wife, Delafield (1890-1943) was brought up according to strict Late Victorian precepts, but failing to ensnare a husband, she entered a convent in Belgium the moment she was 21. Having recovered from this experience she became a VAD, (voluntary nursing for the war effort) and wrote her first novel. Delafield started publishing in her mid twenties and the year her fourth novel Consequences was published, she married Paul Dashwood, a civil engineer turned land agent; three years in Malaya was followed by life in rural Devon. Many of her novels and short stories are semi-autobiographical or stem from her experiences living abroad and in the rural countryside.