Leela Drake, a 16 years old schoolgirl , begins a friendship and some years later a love affair with an 18 years old A-level student, Edmund Rice. He is already in a relationship with a woman, Dorothy, somewhat older and more mature than he, but for a short while he retains his attachment to both of them. He is restrained in his sexual desire for the young girl as he feels she needs to mature more before she makes the "ultimate" commitment of physical love. It also becomes clear that while the backgrounds of Edmund and Leela are middle-class in terms of income, their parents have very different styles of life, and different perceptions of their relationship.
They are parted when Edmund is called up to do his two-years National Service, which takes place in Austria, and so he sees little of Leela while he is away. He has a comparatively interesting time in the Army, and in some ways reluctantly decides to return to civilian life. For her, the waiting is romantic and magnifies her desire and love for him. He too finds his feelings for her have not diminished. Soon after his return they make love for the first time.
It soon becomes clear that Leela and Edmund also have views of their affair which are widely apart. Edmund, who likes to picture himself as an idealist, believes in the seriousness and permanency of anything of worth. Leela feels that the moment is just that - and cannot be captured again, however deeply she or Edmund felt at that moment. She is fiercely passionate and sensual, and lives her love through her sexual love as much as in any other way. Edmund is just as physically involved with her, but wants more than merely the experience they have at the moments of intercourse. This incompatibility is heightened when Leela discovers she is pregnant, and eventually the couple decide to end their intimacy. Their baby, a boy, is born and Edmund takes much interest in him and spends time looking after him. He is fascinated by having his own child, although he still hankers after some greater, wider experience and plans to go abroad again. Their families are affected by their affair, but in a great variety of ways, reflecting their differing outlook on life and morality.
This Book1 ends with the marriage of Leela’s brother, John.