Desmond Bates, a university teacher of Linguistics (Linguistics is about describing languages rather than learning them) retires early because of deafness. The story is mainly about his relationships with three people. First, with his wife who with a female friend developed an interior design business. Secondly, with his father living alone in the former family home and getting increasingly frail and cantankerous. Thirdly with an American post-graduate female student who gets in touch with him for help with her thesis on the structure of notes left by people who committed suicide.