In a small town in the South Africa of the 1940s, a young boy is ill at ease with his father and stifled by his mother's unconditional love. At school he passes every test that is set for him, but he remains wary of his fellow pupils, especially the rough Afrikaners. Later, as a student in Cape Town he readies himself to escape to Europe but once in London, the reality is dispiriting: he toils as a computer programmer, inhabits a series of damp, dreary flats and is haunted by loneliness and boredom. Decades later, an English biographer researches a book about the late John Coetzee, interviewees describe an awkward man still living with his father. His family regard him with suspicion and he is dogged by rumours.