Starting with a small baby reaching up to the clouds, a baby born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother in the second half of the 1800s, this novel will take you through that baby's entire life. The poverty he suffers at the start of his life doesn't seem to bother him so much, and eating scraps from the cobbles under his grandfather's market stall just means that he can fill his belly. Does his life improve? Well, yes, but not staight away - the Prussians take over Paris, various family members die, and eventually he ends up an orphan in Tangiers where he lives a life of lying, cheating, wheeler dealing, and discovers sex. But he isn't going to stay in Tangiers. Not enough for him there. London beckons, and when he realises that somehow he needs to do something so that he doesn't starve, he takes on a job that may help him to get on in life.
He is simply one of the most unlikeable characters in fiction, I think. he likes "something for nothing", he is single-minded about the direction his life needs to go, and he loves no-one at all - until his daughter is born. He's met his match here, because she is also unlikeable. Forged in her father's image, spoilt, with money, these two are a match made in hell.
No more about the story, because you need to get the flavour yourself. Finally, I beg you, do not read the Forward until you have finished the book, or you will have gleaned too much from it. But do note that Du Maurier was only 26 when she wrote this.