It's rather odd that Heinrich Boll should have won the Nobel Prize just after publishing an elaborate dossier-type anti-novel all about a somewhat dreary heroine suffering pangs of the Zeitgeist. Odd because BoWs sensibility is ""hot"" not ""cool."" In much better works (Billiards at Halfpast Nine, The Clown), Boll displayed a traditional empathy for character and situation. Neither his inventive nor stylistic powers were exceptional. What was unusual was a seductive mingling of irony and compassion, especially regarding devastated family life or a war-ravaged Catholicism. Here, a detached narrator interviews a number of people who have known Leni Pfeiffer on and off over the years from the late '30's to the present. Slowly, ever so slowly, the counterpoint of voices forms not only a ""group portrait"" of earnest, romantic, putatively irreducible Leni, but also a chronicle of the German spirit or maybe just plain old German society. Leni's school days with the nuns, Leni's bad days with the Nazis and the Russians, Leni's amours and marriages, Leni's complicated adventures during the war and after the war (the reader never did get them straight), Leni's slightly paranoid middle age -- the fortunes of Leni's life are meant, of course, to represent the dehumanizing effects of history on a free soul. But Leni's ""informants,"" though varied, are a toneless lot, and Leni herself a bit dim. A few passages are risible in that heavy German way, a few scenes of political duplicity memorable. But surely the flashback device works to more profitable advantage in such films as Citizen Kane or Darling, both of which, one suspects, influenced a good deal of Group Portrait With Lady.