Frieda Haxby is as famous for her writing as she is for her eccentricities. But for Daniel Palmer, his sisters Rosemary and Grace and their families, she is a monster mother, caring only for her work, her lovers, herself. Benjamin D'Anger, Frieda's half-Guyanese grandson, alone can inspire affection in her, while the others fret about what might be in her will.
For Frieda, uncommunicative and uninviting, has exchanged the family home for a ramshackle mansion perched on the edge of the sea. There she sits among the junk and debris, writing her memoirs, raising the dead and the disappeared from her past.
Increasingly focused on the old lady's bizarre behaviour, the orderly lives of the Palmer, Herz and D'Anger families are eroded - just as the elements threaten to wash away the cliff from beneath Frieda's home. And when Frieda vanishes, the descent into chaos is swift . . .