The book revolves around the lives of four people, Gilbert, a royal force soldier from Jamaica; Hortense, wife of Gilbert; Queenie, a white landlady; and her husband Bernard.
The book starts of with Queenie thinking about how much her life has changed since WWII. Gilbert has been experiencing racism is London and is led to Queenie by a man named Albert. Queenie provides Gilbert a place to stay. The three become fast friends but Albert is fatally shot to death by the police.
Gilbert then brings over Hortense to London and Queenie tries to help her settle in. Queenie helps her to get a teaching job at a school but she faces racism when they tell her that her education in Jamaica is not valid in London.
One day, Queenie bumps into her husband, Bernard, who has not come from war because he fears he has syphilis after engaging in sex with a prostitute. Bernard returns home after the initial shock is overcome and it is found that he simply had the flu.
However, Queenie begins to feel slightly nauseous and it is found that she is pregnant. She had engaged in sex with a black man named Michael Roberts, who Hortense was initially in love with. She does not want Bernard to know and so urges Hortense and Gilbert to accept the child as their own. They agree to adopt the child and move out to form their own family.