Much like the heroines of Brookner's previous novels (The Debut, Look at Me), Kitty Maule is a young London academic in desperate search of something she can feel a part of--something to be enveloped by. ""I can learn. I can understand. I can even criticize. What I cannot do is reconcile."" Her mother was French; her English father was killed in the war, just before Kitty's birth; thus, Kitty has a hard time making connections. She does find some comfort in the company of her closest living relatives: lovely grandparents, French dressmakers living in London. (Brookner's portraiture here is warm, deft, particular.) But for a lover she must make do with the diffident Maurice--who continues longing after a departed fiancÃ‰e. (Or at least that's what Kitty is led to believe.) And so Kitty throws herself into her teaching; she travels to Paris on a whim; she even consults a clairvoyant. Still, nothing quite coheres for her: when she conducts a seminar on Constant's novel Adolphe, Kitty judges obsessive fidelities to be the bane of Romanticism--yet just such disastrous involvements are the ones she yearns after. . . to no avail. As before, the great strength of Brookner's fiction is the commitment to a Jamesian sort of heroine--complicated, tentative, cerebral, vulnerable. More than before, however, this novel is afflicted by Jamesian drawbacks: the book is all subtly shifting degrees of unhappiness, unresolving; the shades of ambiguity and promised action undermine one another until the narrative becomes thoroughly static--if undeniably rich. And though admirers of The Debut and Look at Me will again be taken with Brookner's minutely adjusted, finely focused approach, this study of naivetÃ‰ is her most inactive, least satisfying work thus far.