Cortazar, absurdist-existentialist-surrealist and above all experimentalist (he's been called all these things over and over), has taken the conceit of this book (""where recurrences and displacements try to be free of all causal fixedness, but especially on the level of meaning"") from a chapter in his best-known 1966 novel Hopscotch. But it is by no means surprising or circumstantial that in the earliest most difficult pages here he refers to Michel Butor and with a certain irritation one remembers all those longueurs of that endless train ride in Butor's Change of Heart as once again there are shifting images and associations and dreams and reprises. Perhaps it is no longer as necessary to put up with them -- they are after all the artificial devices of the now aging nouveau roman which has receded in the distance with all those telephone poles. Moving from London/Paris/Vienna, this alternates between the members of a small group of emigre-artist intellectuals: Nicole who paints and Marrast who sculpts and thinks of affiliating himself with some ""anonymous neurotics""; a pair of Argentinians who chatter about some swallows in the Underground and here ""the emission of an incomprehensible language"" is truly so (pettifor and mulgh and cronk); but particularly Juan, sad at the loss of Helene, a dominantly seductive presence whom he tries to reach through another young woman. Ultimately, if only on the superficial level with which Cortazar is least concerned, it all falls into place. But it demands attention (isolating and separating and deciphering) while often encouraging the opposite as the eye elides all these states of consciousness and correlations. Mr. Cortazar tells you at the start that the reader's option ""his personal montage of the elements in the tale, will in each case be the book he has chosen to read"" -- a free finesse for any reviewer impatient with the imaginative and technical bravura of the performance.