One crisp, clear day, across a cobbled Oxford street, Raymond Greatorex catches sight of Beatrice Kopus. Raymond, a brilliant but ageing don whose specialty is Nietzsche, has withdrawn into a lonely world of scholarship. Beatrice is in Oxford researching Virginia Woolf, and distancing herself from her husband, Walter. When Beatrice reappears in Raymond's life, they embark on a love affair. Beatrice becomes convinced of a link between Friedrich Nietzsche, Louise von Salome - the young Russian emigre who bewitched him - and Virginia Woolf. As Walter faces ruin in his glittering career, Beatrice and Raymond seek refuge in the past. Stories of Nietzsche's madness and his obsession with von Salome become intertwined with those of Raymond's ancestors, and their beautiful, crumbling home on the Welsh borders. But there are even greater mysteries linking the past to the present, and in their quest to find one set of answers, Beatrice and Raymond stand to uncover a secret that will profoundly change their understanding of who they really are.