A lad named Oliver plays the piano and contemplates his unanswered love for a girl named Imogen. He suddenly gets a visit from Evie Babbacombe, a well-known promiscuous girl of the town Stillbourne. She is drenched from the rain and her face is bruised. She asks him to go help Robert, Oliver's next door neighbor and the guy Evie is seeing now. Robert is stranded in the woods and can't get his car to move. The next day Evie asks Oliver to help her find a cross necklace she lost somewhere around the Old Bridge. While Oliver is on this task Robert and Evie arrive on a motor bike and Oliver and Robert get in a fight.
Oliver and Evie start seeing more of each other and Oliver knowing her reputation of promiscuity finds himself wanting to have Evie as well. Robert gets into a bad incident which leaves him hospitalized. Oliver is troubled by his desire for Evie and one day finds her at an old church. Resolved to be with her, he takes her to the nearby woods and loses his virginity with her. They see each other for a few days like that.
Oliver's father works at a nearby hospital and Evie works there too. One day on his visit to his father Oliver sees Evie kissing Dr. Ewans. One a one dinner night with his parents Oliver discovers that Evie talked to his father and that he knows about what's been going on. Oliver's parents are determined to send him to Oxford to college. Evie leaves Stillbourne some time after.
A few years later Evie and Oliver see each other again and talking about their past Evie blurts out that her father raped her. Oliver finally comes to understand Evie and her behavior a little more.
Some times after this, Oliver visits his parents back in Stillbourne. His mother had revived the Stillbourne operatic society and wants him to take part in it. Imogen and her husband are taking part in the opera play as well. Imogen's husband is a narcissist and it is one of his traits that makes them compatible. Mr. De Tracy is a director of the play. Oliver starts to like the man because of his kind character. Mr. De Tracy talks with Oliver about the truth of life and about his own troubles. After the play is over Oliver finds Mr. De Tracy drunk and sends him off one a bus home.
In the last part of the novel, Oliver as a middle aged man visits Stillbourne and visits the town's richest man Henry and thinks about the change the town went through, he also discover that Bounce died. She is the woman who gave him violin lessons when he was a child.
Oliver remembers his childhood. Bounce had an affair with Henry who only used her for her fortune. This made the woman go insane and become a laughing stock of the town. When Oliver got married he remembers visiting Bounce for the last time because his mother told him that she was scared of many cats Bounce had. Oliver remembers disliking her even then.
In the present, Oliver goes to Bounce's grave and tells her the honest truth, that he always hated her and that she always scared him. He goes back to her now empty house and discovers that she burned all of her artistic photos and music albums. She probably did this while she was in her insanity. While walking Oliver thinks about the many people that walked the same pavement he walks now and how he would pay a price, a reasonable price thought, to give them and himself the power to choose the future.