Set in Swinging London, the novel describes one day in the life of Adam Appleby, who lives in constant fear that his wife might be pregnant again. As Catholics, they are denied any form of contraception and have to play "Vatican Roulette" instead.
In the course of only one busy day several chances to make some money present themselves to Adam. For example, he is offered the opportunity to edit a deceased scholar's unpublished manuscripts. However, when he eventually has a look at them he feels uncomfortable realizing that the man was an anti-Semite and that his writings are worthless drivel. Also, at the house in Bayswater where he is supposed to get the papers, Adam has to cope with an assortment of weird characters ranging from butchers to a young virgin intent on seducing him.
Lodge's novel makes use of pastiche, incorporating various passages where both the motifs and the style of writing used by renowned authors are imitated. For instance, there is a Kafkaesque scene where Adam has to renew his reading room ticket. On the other hand, the final pages of the novel, reminiscent of Mrs Dalloway and other stream of consciousness novels, contain what is possibly one of the longest sentences ever written in the English language.
This use of different styles mirrors James Joyce's Ulysses, a work also about one single day. When Lodge's novel first came out quite a number of reviewers and critics, unable to get the joke and the literary allusions, actually found fault with Lodge for his apparent inhomogeneous writing.