Chapter 1 Summary

The story begins in Edinburgh, Scotland on Friday, July 15, 1988. Dexter (Dex) Mayhem and Emma (Em) Morley are lying in bed talking about their plans for the future. They have just graduated from college and are discussing what to do next with their lives. Dex is interested in traveling while Em is more concerned with her long term plans. She wants to know what he’ll be doing at the age of forty, which he is unable to comprehend. He makes fun of her Yorkshire accent and her interest in the future.

Em observes Dex as he smokes a cigarette and notes that he is handsome, even though that word seems outdated to her. She wonders how he got to be so well built since she has never seen him exercise. She’s upset with herself for finding him so attractive. She tells him that she can picture him at forty, driving a sports car with his young, fourth wife. He is slightly offended at her vision of him. It becomes clear that they do not know each other very well. She tells him she knows his “type,” and implies that he’s a spoiled rich kid. Dex asks why she’s sleeping with him if she dislikes him so much.

Emma goes into the bathroom, and Dex takes the opportunity to look around her room. Her apartment is small and shabby; she has lots of artsy photos and seems to be making a statement with all of her art and books. He views her room as a manifesto of sorts. He imagines that she hates the world “bourgeois,” but he likes the word and the security it implies. He has spent a great deal of time with girls like Emma and finds them all the same. Dex’s vision of his future is not very clear. He hopes to be successful but mostly wants to have fun. Dex considers leaving when he finds a box of condoms and a half smoked joint.

While in the bathroom, Emma admits to herself that she has liked him since she first saw him four years ago, but she’s insecure about herself when she’s around him. She goes back to bed in her graduation cap and gown and asks him to cuddle. She suggests that they sleep and contemplates her own future, changing lives through art and writing beautifully. Emma also remembers her few sexual experiences which were not very exciting.

Dex again considers leaving but instead stares at Emma’s face and how pretty she is. He tells her that, since it’s now dawn, it is St. Swithin’s Day and that if rain falls on St. Swithin’s grave, it will rain for the next forty days. She asks what he’s doing later and he says nothing. They plan to do something together and then fall asleep.

Chapter 2 Summary

It is now July 15, 1989. Emma is writing a letter to Dex from Wolverhampton about her experiences in a Theatre-in-Education piece that she’s performing there. The play is about slavery and is performed in schools for adolescents. She is working with Kwame, who plays a slave; Sid, who was on a popular television show but is now somewhat washed up; and Candy, a trashy actress who is waiting to be “discovered.” She writes to Dex to tell him about her life and ask how his summer in Rome is turning out.

Emma had joined the theatre troupe when a former lover called and asked her to collaborate on the piece with him. In the past year, she has made several bad choices. She joined an all-girl band, started and abandoned two novels, and had several retail jobs. She has also taken a Circus Skills course and discovered that she was not cut out for that. Emma moved home to her parents’, where they were concerned about her lack of direction, especially since she had done so well in college. She reveals that she went to Dexter’s family home with him after graduation, but she got drunk and yelled at his father about the Sandinistas. They had met again in the spring at a mutual friend’s party, but Dex seemed only interested in friendship at that point. Then, Dex had begun traveling. Emma sent him long, detailed letters and he replied with postcards from party towns. Emma admits to herself that she would rather be in Rome in bed with Dex than doing educational theatre.

Dex is teaching English to girls in Rome and having an affair with one of his students. Even as he embarks on the relationship, he wonders what Emma would think of it and knows she would be disappointed. He admits to himself that his life of leisure and pleasure will someday wear thin. Dex leaves Tove, his lover, to meet his parents for lunch. He watches his mother for a few minutes before joining her at the café table. She is a beautiful, flirtatious woman whom he...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary

It is now July 15, 1990. Emma is waiting tables at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Camden Town. It’s a terrible restaurant, and she is obviously unhappy there, but she’s been there for close to a year. On this particular day, a new waiter named Ian is starting work. Emma trains Ian and learns that he’s a budding stand-up comedian. She tells him all about the bad food at the restaurant and tries to prepare him for what is sure to be a miserable job. At one point, Ian asks her out to see his comedy show that night. She almost says yes, but then firmly refuses.

Interspersed with Em’s relationship with Ian are snippets of a letter that Dex is writing to her from Bombay, India. He is enjoying himself there and tells her that he was fired from teaching English in Rome because his affair with the student was discovered. He is taking lots of photographs and can’t wait to show them to her. He is drunk while writing the letter and mentions that it is hard for him to write this. He eventually gets to the point and asks Em to leave her job and the apartment she shares with her bossy college roommate and come live with him in India for three months. He reveals that his mother has cancer and he needs to go home in three months’ time. He tells Em that he will pay her expenses because it’s so cheap to live there. Dex asks Em to meet him at the Taj Mahal on August 1st (his birthday) at noon with a red rose and a copy of Nicholas Nickleby. He says he’ll meet her with a white rose and the copy of Howards End that she sent him. He tells her that he thinks about her a lot and wants her to be there with him.

Dex is drunk while writing the letter and almost thinks better of sending it. He decides that he will send it before he overthinks it. He tucks the envelope into his copy of Howards End and goes out to meet some Dutch women at a bar. He leaves the bar a few hours later with a sexy trainee pharmacist and accidentally bumps into a German chemical engineering student named Heidi Schindler, where he drops the book and letter. Heidi is in a terrible mood but discovers the lost book. She reads the letter and, despite having poor English skills, recognizes that it’s an important note. Dex hasn’t addressed it, so Heidi has no way to get it to Em. She decides to ask the desk at the hostel across the street.

Flashing forward, Heidi (now Klauss) is living in a suburb of Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and four children. She has the copy of Howards End on her bookshelf with the unsent letter still inside the cover, next to Emma’s inscription to Dex.

Chapter 4 Summary

It is now 1991, and Emma is still working at the restaurant with Ian. They have become close friends, but the other staff members think they’re more than that. Emma’s boss is moving on to manage another chain restaurant and offers her the job of manager at this one. She bursts into tears when he makes the offer. She goes into the staffroom where she eats nachos, smokes one of Ian’s cigarettes and contemplates her mistakes in life. Her mother has been pleading for her to come back home, and Emma is tempted. She feels defeated by the city. Her friend, Stephanie Shaw, works in publishing and Emma has thought of following that path, too. She has written letters to publishers and agents but has had no luck. She writes a poem about nachos and then scratches it out and instead writes a poem about the night that she and Dex spent in Edinburgh before graduation.

Ian comes in and tells Emma that Dexter is there with his girlfriend again. Emma tries to get Ian to wait on them, but Dex asks explicitly for her. It seems he has a habit of stopping by with his girlfriends to see Emma at work. She goes to their table, and Dex introduces Naomi (pronounced Gnome-y). Dex is drunk and wants Emma to join them for a margarita. Emma refuses because she’s working and he tries to give her a tip.

Dexter then goes to Primrose Hill to drink. He has given up his dream of becoming a photographer and is instead working in television. He met a woman on the train back from India, and she gave him his first job as a runner. He had worked his way up and is now an assistant producer on a weekend magazine program. He likes that television is a good looking industry and values youth so much. He also likes that energy and confidence are more important than intelligence in this field.

Emma enters the establishment and yells at him for embarrassing her in her restaurant. He tells her about meeting Naomi at a party when she slipped him some drugs. Emma...

(The entire section is 526 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary

July 15, 1992, finds Em and Dex vacationing together on the Dodecanese Islands in Greece. They are on their second day of a ten day vacation and have a complex set of Rules of Engagement. Emma has had a brief relationship with a bicycle repairman, but is single again. Dex has also broken up with Naomi and had a series of flings, but he is finally seeing Ingrid, a model/fashion-stylist. Because of Dexter’s relationship with Ingrid, he and Emma have set strict rules for their vacation. They will sleep in separate bedrooms, won’t flirt with each other or anyone else; there will be no nudity and no scrabble.

On the second day, Dex is trying to read the copy of Lolita that Em has...

(The entire section is 531 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary

July of 1993 finds Dexter in a cab as he heads home from a new friend’s apartment. He has met a girl named Tara at a club where she has been giving random strangers back rubs. When she gets to Dex, she recognizes him from television and they end up chatting and telling each other how lovely they are. They are drunk and on drugs, so their conversation is not very coherent. Dex is there with his friend Callum O’Neill from college. Callum is a successful businessman now, so he can’t stay out all night like Dex and ends up leaving him there. Tara introduces Dex to her friends and they all dance together until one of them decides it’s boring. Dex has a moment of panic when he realizes that he has something important to do later...

(The entire section is 599 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary

On the same day (July 15, 1993) as Dex’s disastrous family visit, Ian, Emma’s former co-worker from the restaurant waits for her at a fancy restaurant. He is still doing stand-up comedy, but he’s not making a living at it, so he spends his days working at an electronics shop. He bumped into Emma one day at work and asked her out. This is their second date and he is anxious to be at such an expensive restaurant. Emma comes in and notices that Ian looks much better than he used to. On their first date, he had taken her to see a horror movie which she was charmed by. Throughout dinner, Ian makes awkward jokes and is generally trying much too hard to impress Emma. She finally tells him to shut up which makes everything awkward...

(The entire section is 432 words.)

Chapter 8 Summary

In 1994, Ian is living in Emma’s flat with her. She accidentally walks in on him sitting on the toilet and is horrified. Ian has a cold and has been up all night being sick as well. He whines and complains that he has gastric flu, but she thinks he ate bad bacon. Today is a huge day for her because she’s directing her school’s production of Oliver! and is terrified of disaster.

Dex is also having a big day because his own TV show is premiering. He wakes up to the sound of Emma on his answering machine wishing him luck. They have not been getting along, so he doesn’t answer. He almost calls her back but is afraid he’ll have to talk to Ian, and they do not like each other at all. He’s annoyed with his...

(The entire section is 586 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary

On July 15, 1995, Emma is working on a mystery novel, but it is not going well. She has started several writing projects but hasn’t completed any of them. Ian is starting to get on her nerves with his one-liners and bad jokes. Emma and Ian have moved into a different flat, which they have bought together. It is in bad shape, but they have talked about fixing it up. At this point, it is still shabby. Emma is getting ready to go out to dinner with Dex that night. She invites Ian, but he has a paying comedy gig and is rude about her going out with Dex. Emma realizes for certain then that she doesn’t love Ian at all.

Dexter is always either drunk or hung over at this point. He is trying to figure out what to do with his...

(The entire section is 591 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary

July 15, 1996, starts with Emma lying on her back on the floor of headmaster Phil Godalming's office. They have been having an affair for nine months. He’s upset that he’s going to have to go six weeks without seeing her. She tries to get him to shave his beard and tells him that the students call him “Beard” and “Monkey Boy.” He answers a phone call from his wife, and Emma wonders how it happened that she’s having an affair with a married man.

She thinks back to her vacation in Corfu with Ian and how she turned down his proposal. Her mother is very upset with her because she loved Ian so much. She had burst into tears in the headmaster’s office at one point and that’s when the affair began. Phil...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary

It is the same day in 1997 and Dexter’s agent tells him that they’re cancelling his TV show. Dex asks why and discovers that the show is actually continuing, just with a younger presenter. At the same time he’s getting that news, Emma is in an elevator with her college friend, Stephanie Shaw. Stephanie has arranged a meeting for her with a famous publisher. Emma is nervous but thrilled that her book is finally being noticed. She has written a school story for young adults about a girl named Julie Criscoll, loosely based on Sonya Richards. She has received many rejections but finally called Stephanie, who got her foot in the door.

Emma is missing an important staff meeting at school in order to be here and knows...

(The entire section is 422 words.)

Chapter 12 Summary

In 1998, Dexter is in love with Sylvie Cope, a beautiful girl who is a little stern but whom he finds perfect. He is visiting her family in Sussex and trying to make a good impression. Sylvie’s parents are not impressed with him because he’s in TV and they’re very wealthy and snooty. Sylvie’s twin 19-year-old brothers hate Dex and jeer at him in front of the family. Sylvie brags about Dex’s production company, but he hasn’t really done anything with it. He has lost his endorsements, been expelled from his poker group, and is no longer in touch with his famous contacts. But he is fine with his bad luck because he now has Sylvie. They go on a lot of little vacations and spend time with Sylvie’s rich friends. Sylvie...

(The entire section is 432 words.)

Chapter 13 Summary

In 1999, Emma is on her way to Tilly Killick’s wedding. Tilly was Emma's college roommate. Emma drives her first car and she is a terrible driver. She is sweating and trying to keep her makeup from running as she travels to the wedding. She and Tilly parted on bad terms after sharing an apartment, but she’s eager to see old college friends as well as Dex and Sylvie. As she’s at a rest area freshening up, Dex and Sylvie drive by in a sports car.

Sylvie asks Dex who will be there and he tells her about Emma whom she’s met at another wedding. Sylvie wants to know if Dex and Emma dated, but he says no. She asks if he ever slept with the bride, and he remembers a foot rub that turned into a sexual encounter many...

(The entire section is 520 words.)

Chapter 14 Summary

On July 15, 2000, Dex is working for Callum at his food company and has a baby named Jasmine. He resolves to be a better person for her but ends up smoking and drinking a few hours later. He feels like he’s not up to the task of being a good father. His marriage to Sylvie is not going well; they have moved into a larger house but they are unhappy. He’s working his way up in Callum’s company and hates being recognized for his former fame.

Sylvie is going out to a bachelorette party for the weekend and is afraid that Dex won’t be able to properly care for the baby while she’s gone. Jasmine is a colicky child and is driving Sylvie crazy with all her crying. Sylvie leaves for the party, and Jasmine immediately...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

Chapter 15 Summary

It is now July 15, 2001, and Emma waits at a train station in Paris for Dex to arrive. She is nervous because the last time she saw him, something had happened. Dexter is also nervous. He has just finished reading a copy of Emma’s book which has finally been published. Emma is living in Paris for a while to write and has changed. She’s cut her hair very short and is dressing much better. When Dex arrives, they have an awkward moment but then recover and joke like they usually do. He tells Emma he’s not drinking anymore, and he doesn’t try to make a pass at the waitress, which is unlike him. He tells her he loves her book and asks her to autograph it. They go to a café and talk about Dex’s divorce from Sylvie. She is...

(The entire section is 434 words.)

Chapter 16 Summary

On July 15, 2002, Dex and Em wake up together. He asks her to move in with him and she says yes. She asks him to consider buying a place somewhere together since his flat still feels like a bachelor pad to her. Dex now has his own deli/café which he and Emma devised in Paris. They had come back to London in September and set up Dex’s business. His mother had left him some money which his father is happy to give him, though he secretly thinks Dex will lose it. Dexter’s father likes Emma and likes Dex more when he’s around her. He and Emma set up the café together and formed a company. Emma’s become quite successful with her two Julie Criscoll books and TV show. Dex’s café has become fashionable in a quiet way, and he is...

(The entire section is 431 words.)

Chapter 17 Summary

On July 15, 2003, Emma and Dex are on a holiday at a cottage in North Yorkshire. She is showing him places she remembers from her childhood, but he is bored. They are getting married in November in a small wedding with a reception for close friends and family. They’ve decided to write their own vows, and Dex wants Emma to take his last name. They are flip and jokey about the wedding but secretly thrilled. They’re supposed to go for a hike to a waterfall, but they have lost their way and are dozing in the sun instead. Emma teases Dex about why she’s marrying him and he says it’s not too late to cancel. They are obviously very in love and happy.

Emma and Dex want their vows to be not too sentimental, but they are...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Chapter 18 Summary

In July of 2004, Dexter is examining his face in the mirror and noticing that he’s aging. He is almost forty and is surprised at the changes in his face and body. He decides that it’s not so bad and that, even though he’s not called beautiful anymore, he is still a good-looking man. He hoped to age like a movie star but is instead aging like an ex-TV presenter. Emma walks in and teases him about his vanity. Dex tells her that they should go look at a house they’re interested in but she snaps at him. They have been arguing lately and he thinks it’s because of the stress of having sold their flat and their needing to find a new place.

Emma walks into the kitchen and tells Dex that she has her period, so she’s...

(The entire section is 613 words.)

Chapter 19 Summary

The story now flashes back to Edinburgh on July 15, 1988, after Dex and Emma’s first night together. Emma wakes up after three hours of sleep and finds Dex quietly getting dressed. She asks him if he’s leaving without saying goodbye and he says he didn’t want to wake her. He insists that he was going to leave a note, but she doesn’t believe him. She’s sad that he’s leaving, but she tries to play it cool and nonchalant. He tells her he’s had a nice time and that she’s lovely. She tells him that it’s fine for him to leave. He walks over to her and she thinks he’s going to kiss her or say something romantic, but instead he reaches under the bed for his sock. He tells her that he’s driving back to Oxfordshire with...

(The entire section is 490 words.)

Chapter 20 Summary

On July 15, 2005, the one-year anniversary of Emma’s death, Dex is trying to have fun so that he can keep moving and not allow himself time to think of Emma. He has taken 200 pounds from the café’s cash drawer and is taking three of his employees out for drinks. He is in a basement bar with his fifth martini in his hand and talking to his friends about Emma. He regrets bringing them since they aren’t drinking as much as he is. He suggests that they go to a strip club. Maddy, the café manager, is appalled and leaves. He gets a taxi to head to another bar, but his other two employees beg off. They ask him to come with them, but he keeps going.

Dex goes into a strip club. He takes a bottle of champagne to a private...

(The entire section is 650 words.)

Chapter 21 Summary

In July of 1988, Dexter showers at Emma’s, and then he has breakfast with her and Tilly. Emma has washed out her espresso maker, and Dex starts to feel better after a cup of coffee. He listens to Emma and Tilly and feels a little like he’s been taken hostage by a bad theatre troupe. He thinks it might have been a mistake to stay and wonders how to kiss Emma with Tilly there.

Emma is irritated with Tilly still being there. Emma has showered with strawberry gel and smells like fruit yogurt. She wants to rinse it off but is afraid to leave Dex alone with Tilly. Tilly is flirting with him and letting her robe fall open to show her best underwear. What Emma really wants is to go back to bed with Dex, but it’s too late....

(The entire section is 434 words.)

Chapter 22 Summary

In 2006, Dex is closing up the café. He takes Maddy’s hand as they walk toward the train station. He has recently moved and sometimes Maddy, whom he is now dating, stays with him. She will not be staying there tonight, however, since it’s the second anniversary of Emma’s death. He kisses Maddy goodbye at the train and walks home alone. They haven’t told any of their co-workers that they’re seeing each other, but Dex figures they’ve all guessed by now. They are not having a passionate affair, but more of a progression from friend to lover. They do get along well, and Maddy saved Dex’s business when he was drinking too much and not showing up for work. Jasmine likes her, too.

Dex’s flat is somewhat...

(The entire section is 579 words.)

Chapter 23 Summary

In 2007, on the third anniversary of Emma’s death, Dex is awoken by Jasmine pressing on his nose. They and Maddy are at a hotel in Edinburgh; they’re staying for two nights and then driving to a holiday cottage near Glasgow. Dex hasn’t been to Edinburgh in fifteen years and he wants to show Jasmine around. Maddy sends them off to explore.

Dex takes Jasmine to the flat where Emma and Tilly used to live. Dex starts to wonder why he’s doing this and considers calling Maddy to meet early, but Jasmine points to the road leading up to Arthur’s Seat. She wants to climb it. Jasmine scrambles up the hill easily while Dex struggles behind her. They sit together at the top, and Dex points out the sights below. They walk...

(The entire section is 601 words.)