The narrator, an unemployed teacher and aspiring writer, lives in London. When Jim and Olga move in next door, his imagination is fired by the unhappy wife's nude sunbathing and the pompous husband's breathtaking tall stories. He recalls his comic victories in the classroom, while fantasizing that Britain's south-east has broken off from the mainland. He remembers his own schooldays and considers the impact of young Miss Bugler. These anecdotes, like Jim's stories, highlight the casual cruelties and misunderstandings in human behaviour and the evasive nature of fulfilment. A turning point is Jim's recollection of a night in India when he hallucinated, suffering the taunts of the giant Rat and his close friend, Roquefort, a miniature cat. Humiliated by publishers' rejections, by the rudeness of Jim's daughter, Daisy, and even by his barber, the narrator transfers his sense of failure to Rat, who enters the narrative in a series of disturbing, yet uproarious adventures which merge illusion with the real world. The narrator removes the barber's head, takes revenge on Daisy when she develops an infatuation for him, and finally publishes something, in contrast to a now unlucky Rat, who is arrested, almost has a nervous breakdown, is refused restaurant service, and disappoints as an undergraduate at Oxford, where the noisy love-making of Bill and Penny emphasises his loneliness.