The novel is a love story, and not a happy one, but it is also extremely funny. The main characters, Harriet and Vesey, conduct a love affair mainly in his absence over a period of perhaps fifteen years. In the meantime Harriet takes a job in a gown shop (yes, "gown," not "dress") and marries an older man, Charles, who knows a little about Vesey, just enough to feel constantly undermined by him. The part of the novel dealing with the shop is especially hilarious, with the antics of the other assistants.
Vesey, effete and ineffective, is yet somehow a powerful character who exerts his influence not only over Harriet and Charles, but over their daughter as well. In fact, the daughter is convinced that Vesey is her real father. He is perceived always as a malign influence, whereas the truth is that he never quite has the energy to achieve anything, not even adultery with Harriet.
The minor characters, like Charles' mother Julia, are excellent. Julia is a former actress and a great drama queen still - quite a nasty piece of work. At one point she makes a reference to the film "Brief Encounter," which is unlike any other you will come across. The former suffragette Caroline and her husband Hugo, who had spent 1914-18 as a Rupert Brooke replica, are also very funny. Caroline is alarmingly principled and is self-righteous; Hugo is resigned: "He knew she was a good wife, though a bore." The principles in this case revolve around a nut-rissole, Caroline being of course a vegetarian.
The novel's end is ambiguous, and I have never been able to decide "what happens."