The main characters in this novel are Harriet and David Lovatt. They met each other at an office Christimas party, where they see each other from across a room crowded with dancing, drinking people and recognize, as they study each other, that they are fundamentally quite similar. In 1960`s they decide to marry and invest everything they have into a rambling Victorian house. Both of them have ideals like fidelity,family life and a permanent house.
Harriet and David Lovat are a conventional couple in 1960’s England. Their only oddity seems to be their desire for a large family, and when they produce four children in quick succession, they seem to be building the happy family they want. The Christian connotations of the names of the male children, Paul and Luke, are unmistakable, and this layer of meaning is reinforced by the way the entire family regularly assembles from far and wide to celebrate the great festivals of the religious year.
Even they are happy with their four children, she gets pregnant again with the fifth child, but she has a strange feeling that this child is different from the others. She feels the unborn baby to be a savage thing, and baby Ben emerges like a beast of the Apocalypse, an anti-Christ. He started to move violently and too early inside Harriet. The birth is one month early and very difficult. After half a year he is able to walk without help, but it`s not only very strong, he is also extremly aggressive too.
Over the next few years they are forced to recognize that „little” Ben is more like a monster, not a child and his violent behaviour produces some horrifying accidents. He often beats his brothers and sisters. „Harriet was wondering why she was always treated like a criminal. Ever since Ben was born it’s been like this, she thought. Now it seemed to her the truth, that everyone had silently condemned her. I have suffered a misfortune, she told herself; I haven’t committed a crime. ”