The novel begins with the fact that Mr. Mohun Biswas, a journalist who lived on Sikkim Street in the St. James district of Port of Spain (the capital of Trinidad and Tobago), was fired from his position at the Trinidad Sentinel ten weeks before he died. Before his death, he had been ill for quite some time, spending so long at the hospital and recuperating at his home that, eventually, the paper was forced to let him go, giving him three months' notice and a complementary lifetime subscription.
At this point in his life, Mr. Biswas is forty-six years old. He and his wife, Shama, have four children. Mr. Biswas is barely able to afford the interest payment on the mortgage of the house on Sikkim Street where he and his family live. This, along with the expense of sending his children to school, results in Mr. Biswas having almost no money. He is, however, glad for one thing: that, after ten years of marriage, his wife no longer runs to her in-laws (the Tulsis) for money. Instead, she devises a plan to sell potatoes for extra income, though the plan never comes to fruition.
Despite the immense debt he owes, Mr. Biswas takes great pleasure in the fact that he owns his own house. The sense of privacy and individualism it gives him is unlike anything in his previous experiences. The house itself is a strange, two-story design that is mostly comprised of frames from old American Army camps, and is one of many odd houses that a solicitor's clerk built in his spare time some years before. The floors are linked by an incredibly inconvenient staircase, and all of the front rooms are virtually uninhabitable during the day because there is no protection from the sun. As the history of the house is recounted, it becomes clear that Shama did not agree with the decision to buy the house, and, furthermore, that Mr. Biswas was not aware of the house's faults until after he had bought it. By the end of his life, however, he and his family have virtually ceased to notice the house's faults, as it has simply become their house. And when Mr. Biswas returns from the hospital for the final time, he is overcome by the fact that his house and all of his possessions, from the kitchen safe to his Slumberking bed, are all part of a world that he somehow made.