An epic romance about the naive Irish girl Kate and her mysterious lover, whom she rejects in panic and then spends her life seeking. After the opening rejection, Kate recalls her Irish upbringing, her convent education, and her coolly-controlled professional success, before her tsunami-like realisation beside an African river of the emotions she had concealed from herself and that she passionately and consumingly loved the man she had rejected.
Searching for him she visits the kingdom of beasts, a London restaurant, an old people's home, back to the misty Donegal Sea, the heavenly archives, Eden, and hell, where at agonising cost she saves her dying love. They walk together toward heaven, but at the gates he walks past leaving her behind in the dust. The gates close behind him. He in turn searches for her and at last finds her in the dust, but to his fury (and renewed hurt) he is not ecstatically recognised and thanked. And the gates are still shut.
On a secret back way to heaven guided by a little beetle, Kate repeatedly saves her still scornful love, but at the very last, despite Kate's fatal inability with numbers and through an ultimate sacrifice, he saves her from the precipice and they reach heaven. Kate finally realises that although her quest for her love was not vain, in the end she had to find herself – the unexpected pearl.
The novel, born in dreams, is interlaced with the ambiguity between this world and another, and increasingly becomes more poetic, riddling and dreamlike as the story unfolds. The epilogue alludes to the key themes of the novel – the eternity of love and the ambiguity between dream and reality.