cover image High Road

High Road

Edna O'Brien. Farrar Straus Giroux, $18.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-374-29273-7

Opening on Easter Sunday, on a verdant island to which the narrator, Anna, has fled at the end of a love affair, O'Brien's new novel ( A Fanatic Heart , The Country Girls trilogy) at first gives promise of the writing of which she is capable: resonant with insights, lush with descriptive detail. But tiresome, disagreeable characters and a series of outrageous events tip the balance to produce a disappointing narrative. Middle-aged, mired in the past with its ``pain and bungle,'' Anna is maudlin, self-obsessed and unbelievably undiscriminating. She takes up with other visitors to the islandvariously boorish, snobbish or drunkall representing effete civilization. At low ebb, contemplating suicide, Anna is drawn to Catalina, a peasant chambermaid. Variously described as a mermaid and a wood nymph, Catalina is a free spirit, possessing the primordial, animal nature that Anna needs for her own resurrection. But after an idyllic night on the mountainside, tragedy strikes, leaving Anna first with ``stunned horror and a scalding shame,'' then with a realization that ``to love one must learn to part with everything.'' Though there are some fine scenes here in which O'Brien skewers pretension with an acid pen, the novel is fatally mired in symbolism and improbable events. (November)