How Many Miles to Babylon? is set in 1914. The story unfolds in Ireland and the trenches of World War One.
The novel opens with an army officer - the narrator of the story - awaiting execution.
We do not know why he has been sentenced at this stage.
He contemplates how his parents and commanding officer must feel.
He is visited by a priest in his last hours.
The narrative then flashes back to his childhood; we find out that he is Alexander Moore - known as Alec, the son of an Anglo-Irish landlord.
Alec lives with his rather cold and detached parents, Frederick and Alicia.
As he recounts his childhood memories, it becomes clear that they have a very unhappy marriage.
His mother refuses to allow Alec to go to school because she has “no intention of remaining alone in this house” with her husband, who she seems to despise.
Instead he is taught academic subjects and music by tutors who come to the house.
Consequently, Alec has a lonely childhood with only a few adults for company.
He is a quiet sensitive boy who spends most of his time alone writing or horse riding.
In time, Alec meets Jerry, a local boy who also enjoys horse riding.
After some initial conflict - because Jerry is trespassing on Alec’s land - they become close companions.
It is obvious that Alec is delighted to have a friend to talk to, swim with and share his passion for horses.
Much of the narrative focuses on their discussions and activities.
They dream of owning a stud farm together when they are older.
However, Alec’s mother – who is portrayed as a snob - is infuriated about his friendship with “that boy” from a lower class.
She forbids him from continuing the friendship and makes him promise he will not see Jerry anymore.
She insists that Alec comes travelling with her to Europe - supposedly to broaden his education, but most likely to get him away from Jerry.