By David Lodge
The story unfolds in the alternating voices of Ralph Messenger, the director of the Holt Belling Center for Cognitive Science at the University of Gloucester in England, and Helen Reed, a recently widowed novelist who has taken up a post as writer-in-residence at Gloucester. Ralph, who is much in demand as a pundit on developments in artificial intelligence, believes that computers may one day be conscious; Helen believes that literary fiction constitutes the richest record of human consciousness. The two are mutually attracted and fascinated by their differences, but Helen resists Ralph's bold advances on moral principles. The standoff between them is shattered by a series of events and discoveries that dramatically confirm the truth of Ralph's dictum that "we can never know for certain what another person is thinking"