Until its last few chapters, which go askew with stagey portent, Irish writer MacLaverty's first novel has a slippery ambiguity of motive that is pretty interesting. Michael Lamb (who has been ""Brother Sebastian""--a teaching brother in a home for wayward Irish boys--until his own father dies) escapes the school with a twelve-year-old student named Owen in tow. Battered, a chronic truant, an occasional bed-wetter, and, most crucially, an epileptic, Owen is the frail, consonant ""lamb"" whom Michael finds need to tend. On money willed to him, Michael takes Owen off to London: they hide--since to the rest of the world their flight is a kidnapping--and Michael's love for the thin, seized, disadvantaged boy grows in depth but also futility. This futility, an attraction to the void, is what prompts the ecstatic-perverse liebestod of the end; and it seriously mars the book. But until then, MacLaverty's now-you-see-it, now-you-don't of Michael's real feelings is delicate and involving. An interesting debut.