I swallow cooling coffee again and taste the coarse ambiguous sweetness of not being dead. .... I thought on the child we never had. For months or years after a death you carry a weight till in time you learn a different and harder sorrow. You learn that you live on, and in time find yourself sleeping again, then smiling once in a while, noticing a fine day or a good face. And the knowledge that you can and do go on living when people you love do not, that is a grown-up sorrow at last.
After a brush with death, a middle-aged man explores his father's life as a young doctor in bustling Penang at a time when he himself has shifted to a sparsely-inhabited island in Scotland. One is a Presbyterian atheist with a strong work ethic while the other is relatively laid back but, for both of them, the consequences of their actions are determined by the times they live in. Both father and son learn that neither life nor love are easy, and that death is always around the corner. Generations and gender and class may separate us but we are all occupied with similar concerns. "Listening and looking at Adele, he begins to see in her degrees of loss and resilience - simple backbone - that he hadn't associated with her accent and her class. She seems to be enduring something, which he always respects, and yearning angrily for something else, which he cannot help but understand."