On the fringes of society, the characters of Bernard MacLaverty's stories are forced to seek consolation as best they can. A lonely old lady resorts to posting a monthly letter to herself; a retired policeman and a cornet-player, captivated by a young flautist, seeks oblivion in drink. In a shabby world, some simply suffer unseen: a sword-swallower, once immortalised by Matisse, sustains a fatal wound before an unheeding, drunken audience; a parish priest slips into death in the cold solitude of his church. Others find unexpected forms of expression: a young boy sheds the shame of his psoriasis through friendship with an eccentric duchess, and a poem provides a tenuous link between two inarticulate strangers. Long-term relationships can lead to a new understanding: a famous architect and his son becomes aware of a bond of mutual affection despite the gult between them in attitudes and values.