Lucy Arbiter has just been appointed chair of the judging panel for the Widmerpool Prize for Fiction.
In spite of being a busy mother of two, she is determined to do a good job and award the prize to the very best book.
But many pitfalls lie in Lucy's way.
The jury meet in the autumn and concentrating on reading isn't easy on a holiday with two kids bored and resentful that she has her head in a book all day long.
And even abroad, she has to endure phone calls from a confused, rather brainless telly celeb invited on the panel to provide some glamour.
Sensing compromise, Lucy enlists another of the judges, an old college tutor and former lover, to help to push her favourite book.
But the tutor is coming under pressure to promote a different book, written by a client of his lover, a psychiatric counsellor.
Lucy is horrified at her friend's veniality, until she too comes under pressure from her film-producer husband to promote a book he thinks he can get the film rights for.
Lucy struggles, but the pressure intensifies as bankruptcy looms and the family's welfare is at risk.