The story is mainly concerned with the day-to-day life and concerns of a young widow named Lavender ("La") Stone, a promising Cambridge student who, like many women of her class and generation, finished school, married well, and led a comfortable and respectable life. In La's case, things go awry when her philandering husband unexpectedly leaves her, and dies shortly thereafter in a freak accident. In 1939, she retreats to her in-law's country house to sort out the emotional wreckage of her failed marriage and premature widowhood. In this self-imposed exile, she finds solace in contributing to the war effort --- tending to the hens on a neighbors farm, cultivating a victory garden, and conducting an orchestra composed of local amateur musicians.
In this quiet and intimate book, La’s rural life might seem inconsequential or perhaps even quaint, but her predicament and pathos are moving. And, her daily battles represent important generational and social struggles among women to lead independent and dignified lives in the face of hardship, moral ambiguities, burdensome class and social conventions, and isolation. La Stone may be rendered with softer lines and contours, yet she bears many of the memorable and inspiring qualities of McCall Smith's well-known heroines.