In my youth...I had an overwhelming passion to be like other people. Other people were a whole romantic race, miles beyond my reach. Not now. I don't really thnk that they exist, except in the eye of the beholder.' When Penelope Wells, precocious daughter of a poet, meets the well-behaved middle-class Bradley children, it is love at first sight. But their parents are horrified by the Wells' establishment- a distinctly bohemian hotel on the French Riviera- and the friendship ends in tears. Out of these childhood betrayals grow Penelope, in love with an elusive ideal of order and calm, and Don Bradley, in rebellion against the phillistine values of his parents. Compellingly told in a series of first-person narratives, their stories involve them with the Duchess, painted and outre; the crippled genius Crusoe; Crusoe's brother Livesey, and the eccentric Cara, whose brittle and chaotic life collides explosively with Penelope's.