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Patrick O'Brian. W. W. Norton & Company, $20.95 (222pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03483-7

This early (1952) novel from the author of the scintillating Aubrey/Maturin novels ( The Truelove et al.) is very different from that seafaring series. For one thing, not much happens: Joseph Aubrey Pugh, university don and elliptical narrator of most of the book, comes into some money, leaves academia and buys a tiny cottage in the mountains of north Wales. There he plans to finish a book, take part in local life--fishing, sheep-shearing--and study the people, concentrating on the Vaughans, his nearest neighbors. Pugh admires the family: sturdy Emyr, his gentle parents, his six-year-old son and Bronwen, Emyr's beautiful and practical wife, with whom Pugh falls in love, his first love in his 30-odd years. They are thrown together and Bronwen eventually reciprocates his affection. But they never ``do'' anything or even talk of their emotions. Some readers may question Bronwen's ``testimony'' after a preacher's spiteful rumor-mongering leads to a tragic end. This is a young man's book, humorless and filled with romantic pessimism, but even back then O'Brian couldn't write a graceless sentence. (May)