From the mid 1950s to the late 1960s he goes through all the traumas of childhood and adolescence, and then some. They are visited on him like the plagues of Egypt: the cane, acne, frustrated sexuality, dimly understood political theory . . . and so on and on.
The action takes place against the background of the times. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Profumo Affair, mini-skirts and the Beatles are all part of Tom's bewildered world. Never really up to it, he staggers from crisis to crisis, unable to make real sense of what is going on, and lacking even the nous to pretend (like everyone else) that he does.