Spring 2000. Paul Geddes visits Venice to research the fin-de-siecle opera singer, Esme Maguire, seeking out a cache of papers held by Eva Forrest, the widow of a collector.
What he reads begins in the 1680s, moving through the city's later history of Enlightenment and Revolution, describing a life stretched beyond human possibilities. She travels across Europe to sing in Regency London and Edinburgh, then Belle Epoque Paris, always returning to Venice, its shadows and its luminosity, its changes and its permanence. What would it be like to live for nearly 300 years, as an exceptional being who must renew herself time after time, as those she has loved age and die?
Could this story be grounded in reality or be merely the product of an ageing woman's delusion, as Paul suspects. Warily, Eva and Paul fall in love, their tentative emotions bringing them closer until, on a trip to the Dolomites, Eva's past catches up with her.