Eldest daughter of Marguerite O’Hara, Claire, is resentful of her mother’s occupation as midwife at her nursing home in Calcutta, British India. Despite Marguerite being of French nobility, she is merely seen as earning her living through "trade”. Desperate to escape the social taint, seventeen-year-old Claire agrees to an arranged marriage with Jack MacLeod, a businessman of means and position.
Attractive, polished and intelligent, the young girl revels in the novelty of mixing with Calcutta’s elite. On her wedding night, Claire discovers in the most traumatic manner that her new husband is in love with a married woman. Distraught, the girl develops a deep revulsion for sexual intimacy with an indifferent husband.
On holiday in southern France, she meets Charles Rattigan, bohemian artist, and younger son of an English duke. The pair fall headlong in love, and Charles expects Claire to leave her husband and become his wife.
Can Claire relinquish a cherished social position to live on considerably reduced means? Can she abandon her children, since no court would award custody to an adulterous woman? Fighting for elusive happiness, Claire is destined to make life-changing mistakes, some far-reaching, some devastatingly grave…