LIFELINES is a multi-character novel about a series of people who cannot get their act together because they are writing different and often disastrous life-scripts for themselves. For instance, Gascoyne, a divorce lawyer who decides to rewrite the book his romantic novelist wife, Nancy, is working on. They quarrel over this and part. She falls for a new doctor in the group practice while Gascoyne starts on another script. Only the doctor realizes that they, and he, are writing the wrong scripts and changes their lines. 60,000 words.
Its main characters, Gascoyne, a divorce lawyer, and his wife, Nancy, a romantic novelist, are drifting apart; he has decided to move in with his mistress, Anne Howells, when he comes across the script of his wife's latest novel. He decides to rewrite it and beef it up.
To Nancy, this implies reshaping her real life and she storms out on him. She works part-time in a West London group practice where she is perpetually fighting off the lecherous ploys of one partner, Dr Mason. But the new locum, Edward Monclar, becomes an ally and they are attracted to each other.
Monclar has a theory that if we are mostly programmed through our genes, we write ourselves a life-script, though this often makes dialogue with others impossible; his own script has gone awry, he has a twin sister, a schizophrenic, who committed suicide; he blames himself for this and fears he might go the same way. So he cannot really dialogue with Nancy.
Nancy's departure has thrown Gascoyne off-balance, and he even finds he's impotent with his mistress. He renounces the idea of moving in with her, and instead concentrates on rewriting Nancy's script. Now very much his own, this script changes his life; he falls foul of his divorce judge, Grantland, quarrels with his law firm and quits.
When he finds out about Monclar, he is jealous, molests the doctor, waylays and attacks him. Monclar knocks him out, takes him home, finds his script and reads between its lines.
Monclar is in love with Nancy but cannot bring himself to reveal his secrets or declare his love. When he takes her to meet his family in the East End and to his old hospital, she realises he's in an emotional warp.
To escape from his mistress and finish his novel, Gascoyne takes a night-porter's job in a small Bayswater hotel. This thrust him into contact with a racket in teenage callgirls and he finds his hated Judge Grantland dead in a hotel room after a sex session with an Indian girl; he also discovers the man behind the Lolita callgirls is Dr Mason from Nancy's group practice.
When one of the girls, a young Indian, contracts AIDS, her father takes revenge by murdering Mason.
Gascoyne's own cover is finally blown, but he finishes his book and sends copies to Nancy and Monclar, who explains to her how they were writing two different life-plays. LIFELINES becomes a best-seller.
Monclar finally confesses about his sister. Nancy convinces him his guilt and fears are groundless. She proves this by contriving a replay of his sister's suicide at the East End mental hospital. There he reveals everything to her, including his love.