All I had experienced, all the stories I had read or dreamed came to me the moment I, a stranger, turned the key in the lock of the unknown house.' In a sweltering basement in downtown Baltimore, Mavis Halleton, writer, ventriloquist and gossip, is struggling to write her novel when an unexpected invitation arrives. The Garretts, a couple Mavis has never heard of but who admire her work, are to spend time in Italy, and offer the use of their airy home in the Berkeley hills. During her stay, an earthquake hits northern Italy, and Mavis, to her surprise, inherits the house. But, surrounded by museum replicas and tasteful imitations, she finds reality itself is on shaky ground. In this highly inventive novel, reality, fiction and dreams are woven together as Janet Frame playfully explores the process of writing fiction.