Willie Somerset Maugham is one of the greatest writers of the early twentieth century. But in 1921 he is beleaguered by an unhappy marriage, ill-health and business interests that have gone badly awry. He is also struggling to write.
His friend Robert Hamlyn offers an escape in the Straits Settlements of Penang, where Robert's steely wife Lesley learns to see Willie as he is - a man who has no choice but to mask his true self. As Willie prepares to leave, Lesley confides in him secrets of her own, including how she came to know the charismatic revolutionary Dr Sun Yat Sen. And more scandalous still, her connection to an Englishwoman charged with murder in the Kuala Lumpur courts - a tragedy drawn from fact, and worthy of fiction.