On the day in 1907 that eleven-year-old Riley Purefoy meets Nadine Waveney, he notes the difference between their two families—his, working class; hers, wealthier and artistic—and vows to better himself.
Nadine’s mother likes Riley as a young boy, but when, a few years later, she detects the romance budding between the two, she fears for her daughter’s future. Angry and humiliated, Riley enlists at the nearest recruiting station during the febrile first weeks of the First World War and ships for France.
While Riley and his commanding officer, Peter Locke, fight for their country, their sanity and their survival in the trenches of Flanders, every day Peter’s wife, Julia, undertakes ever more neurotic rituals to prepare for her beloved husband’s return. Then when he does return on leave, she finds him distant, changed and damaged, beyond the scope of anything she can do.
Nadine, only eighteen when the war starts, above all wants to make promises—but how can she when her future with Riley is completely out of her hands? Youthful passion is on their side, but their bond is tested by a terrible injury, and even more so by the imperfect rehabilitation that follows.