Longing to escape an unhappy marriage and an interfering mother, Ellen hopes to recapture the magic of her childhood when she returns to the small village where she spent her summer holidays. Her elderly uncle welcomes her with the rather mystifying advice to play it 'civil and strange' - meaning she should be polite to people, but keep her distance.
Ellen makes good friends and she finds out how sustaining village life can be. But she also sees its narrow side when she, tentatively, starts a new relationship and becomes the focus of gossip. Her uncle's words resonate in a new way and she starts to question what she's doing with her life and whether she's made the right decision in abandoning city life.
But as the events of this tumultuous year play out, it becomes clear to Ellen that starting over again isn't about where you are but what's going on inside . . .