Edith Hope, 39, ""a writer of romantic fiction under a more thrusting name,"" has come to a small, quiet Swiss hotel in the off-season--to recover from (or atone for) some unspecified, scandalous ""lapse"" in her London behavior. As in Brookner's Look at Me (1983), this Jamesian, Woolfian heroine is unmarried, wary, cerebral--torn between involvement and detachment, self-dramatization and self-deprecation. At first, then, while writing letters to her married lover back home, Edith plays the role of the watcher, becoming the confidante to two hotel guests--each of whom represents one womanly approach to the problem of romance: regal widow Mrs. Pusey--gloriously well-preserved at 79, accompanied by her plumply sexy daughter--is ""completely preoccupied with the femininity which has always provided her with life's chief delights""; on the other hand, shrill Monica, rebellious and quasi-anorexic wife of a nobleman, offers ""the rueful world of defiance, of taunting, of teasing, of spoiling for a fight."" And a third alternative to Edith's own romanticism is provided by enigmatic guest Mr. Neville, who urges her to adopt an ""entirely selfish"" approach to life and love. Edith considers all these possibilities--while recalling (and revealing) the details of that London ""lapse"": not showing up for her scheduled wedding to a bland, safe suitor. She receives another, odder marriage proposal from elegantly creepy Mr. Neville. (""You are a lady. . . As my wife, you will do very well. Unmarried, I'm afraid you will soon look a bit of a fool."") But finally, after a few more revelations, Edith will return to her romantic one-true-love. . . even though she's quite aware that it's illusory, half-unrequited, doomed. In many ways, this sad little comedy is less subtle, more artificial than Brookner's three previous, similar character-portraits: the themes are laid on thick, starting right off with Edith's surname and occupation; the James/Woolf echoes are blatantly arranged; the players (including Edith herself) are more types than credible characters. Still, for readers who relish a blend of extra-dry humor, tartly wistful introspection, and literary self-consciousness, this small entertainment--winner of England's Booker Prize--will be a delicate, provocative pleasure.