Well-known Irish newspaper columnist O'Faolain made a splash in 1998 with the publication of her unsentimental yet poignant memoir. The essential themes and many details of her evocatively atmospheric first novel will be familiar to readers of Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman. Expatriate Irishwoman Kathleen de Burca, an unmarried, middle-aged travel writer, lives in a dreary basement flat in London. Although she is professionally successful, her quest for passion has devolved into a series of increasingly rare one-night stands. She justifies the unsatisfying nature of her relationships by characterizing herself as ""a generous woman."" When her best friend dies of a heart attack, Kathleen decides to quit her job and write the book she has been contemplating for years. She returns to Ireland, where she immerses herself in research into an 1856 divorce case involving an alleged affair between Mrs. Talbot, the wife of an Anglo-Irish landowner, and William Mullan, their servant. Kathleen is also discovering truths about herself, her family and her country as she (like Mrs. Talbot) confronts the dilemma of whether to seize what may be her last chance for love and passion, albeit with a married man. O'Faolain's novel-within-a-novel device effectively mirrors one of the author's themes, the ultimate unknowability of a past always viewed through the lens of the present. The humor, honesty and moral seriousness with which Kathleen assesses her life and the conditions of her heart and her soul acquire a moving resonance as the imagined lives of her characters achieve resolution and her own life flowers into another phase. And O'Faolain's depiction of the west of Ireland during and just after the Famine surpasses any historical recitation of the ""facts."" (Feb. 19) Forecast: O'Faolain's memoir was a bestseller, and the 125,000-copy first printing and 17-city author tour scheduled for the novel anticipate another run on the lists for the Irish author. Foreign rights have been sold in the U.K., Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden. BOMC and QPB alternates.