The novel begins as Michael, a middle-aged man of means, is dressing for dinner at a friend's country house in Ireland. As he descends the grand staircase, he spots a small painting of a landing with an old linen press and the white marble statue of an angel. In the background is a woman clad in a dark green dress. During dinner, Michael comments on the painting to his hosts but they say there is no woman in the picture. When Michael goes up to bed later, he sees that they are correct. This is only the first in a series of incidents that lead Michael to question his grip on reality. His wife Elilzabeth is unsettled by the changes she sees in a man she originally married because he was dependable and steady, not because she loved him. Suddenly she is aware that she has never really known Michael and as he changes, she sees glimpses of someone she could fall in love with. Michael, in the meantime, is disturbed by events up at his family's ancestral home in the wilds of Scotland and by a past that he is threatening to destroy everything, and everyone, he has ever loved.