This is none of the flimsy stuff that passes for novels nowadays but returns, as did Joyce, Hemingway, Lowry, to the almost supererogatory ideal of what a novel ought to be and do. Higgins deliberately invokes the great expatriates: and their books -- if he didn't his style and bearing would. Clearly he wants to be read against them and beside them. But it is not clear what extension of meaning he intends or what uses (they are varied and subtle) he means to make of literary precedent. It is a point of reference among his characters, and particularly for his heronarrator, a married Irish painter named Dan Ruttle, in his love affair with Charlotte Bayliss, a brash, young American Jewish wife. They meet in a colony of writers and artists in Andalusia each coming from a well-established life which they never, strangely, consider altering. Nevertheless, their passion is a grand one -- inconclusive as it is on face, it is the core of this imposing and tantalizing book -- perhaps because they represent for each other virgin ranges of possibility. This is certainly true of Charlotte's Jewishness for Ruttle; his imagination cannot exhaust it. And around them there is an air of exhaustion, pointlessness, redundancy; it is implicit in what Ruttle sees and inherent in his random, acute, diaristic way of seeing -- the narrative style itself communicates slack and snarl. Probably to the same purpose, the novel swags between the bitter last years of Ruttle's parents in Ireland and an indeterminate point well after Ruttle's cooling off and repatriation. There is no conventional shape or tension, but one suspects a subtler structuring in the finely crafted, allusive texture. Higgins will command the type of reader who will find it.