Most of this novel takes place in and around London. Both the place and the time are important in the setting. As Michael Frame, the time is 1998. Michael is afraid of being identified, so he leads a very passive and secluded life. He hopes the 1960s are well behind him. However, when Miles (a character from the past) appears, Michael’s thoughts and the story return to 1968.
Although the United Kingdom was not involved in the Vietnam War, the protests that are occurring in the States during the 1960s have affected the British youth. This is true in France, Germany, and Italy also. Historically, the British protest did not receive as much press as other European and American protests did. This fact is played out in the novel through the statements that the British press all but refused to relay events that are occurring. Bombs are going off; youthful squatters are taking over vacant factories and dilapidated houses and setting up unofficial youth hostels. Crimes, such as car theft and grocery store burglaries, are on the rise. Sometimes police ignore these activities; other times, they come in force and bust the groups, taking several to jail. But still the stories do not appear in the British press. This is quite different is happening in the United States and in other European cities.
Through several of the characters, the author shows the contrast of peoples lives between what they did in the 1960s and later in the 1990s. Miranda is a good example of this contrast. In the 1960s, she lived a hippie life, wanting little material wealth and living simply. Miranda and Michael got along well during these early years. But by the time the 1990s rolled in, Miranda had turned her homemade business into an industry. In the 1960s, Miranda created natural cosmetic lotions in her kitchen. But in the 1990s, she dresses in corporate style clothes, has a factory, and is considering retail storefronts. She holds dinner parties for people she does not really like but who can help her expand her business. In other words, she is now in business to make a lot of money.
Another character that goes through a similar change, reflecting the difference between 1960s counterculture and 1990s business culture, is Patricia Ellis. Patricia had been a young lawyer just out of school in the 1960s. She worked, at that time, for the “people,” helping to defend young people who were protesting the war and seeking some kind of revolutionary change in the capitalist society in London. But by the 1990s, Patricia has dropped all her ideals and is rapidly climbing up the political ladder, gaining more and more power each year.