Mrs Blackstock, known affectionately to everyone as Ma, runs a boarding house, a large old Victorian house, in Exeter where a very disparate group of people have taken up residence. At the start of the novel Lizzie, her granddaughter, is also living in the house due to a break up of her own family, when her father is sent to prison for assaulting Lizzie’s mother, and her mother goes to live with her man-friend and his family, leaving Lizzie feeling deserted. The trials and tribulations of the cast of characters make up the story. From a young student troubled by his love life to an aging divorcee who’s given up on life, and including a Polish immigrant who gets in deep trouble through association with the wrong people, and the prim middle-aged seamstress who dotes on him. There’s also a young woman looking for a family life and an ambitious young man determined to make a life for himself.
The action comes to a head when Lizzie is kidnapped. As a result Ma suffers a heart attack and dies changing the whole ethos of the ‘Place’ when Michael, her son, takes over the business. The residents move on to the next stages in their lives, all subject in one way or another to radical change.