Grant, the protagonist of the story, is a former professor now in his seventies who is grappling with his wife Fiona’s onset of dementia and the nature of his new role in her life. Grant is deeply devoted to Fiona, despite having had many extramarital affairs over the years. From the beginning of the story, Grant is drawn to Fiona’s zest for life, and throughout the story he strives to both care for her and please her. He finds it difficult to accept that she is losing her memory, but at the same time he takes steps to keep her safe by moving her to Meadowlake, despite his intense loneliness without her. However, Grant also justifies following his own desires, viewing himself not as unfaithful for his affairs but as noble and self-sacrificing for remaining married. He imagines he is better than peers who threw out their marriages, quit their jobs, and moved to the country, though in fact his affair with a student forced him into early retirement and social isolation which forced him and Fiona to move away. 

Grant imagines he can predict other people’s reactions and behavior, but in fact he is often taken by surprise. He is so surprised by Fiona’s proposal of marriage that he fears she is making a joke. He is shocked by the changes in sexual morals that lead women in his classes to seek sex more openly, and then he is taken by surprise when his affair with one of those students ends in scandal. He mistakes Marian’s likely motivations so badly that he cannot initially convince her to allow Aubrey to visit Fiona, and while he is reflecting on that, finds himself taken aback when she calls and leaves repeated messages, apparently seeking a relationship with him. Even his presentation of Aubrey to Fiona, the person he knows best in the world, does not go as he expects when she ignores his gift of the man he thinks she wants in favor of once again giving him her attention and affection.