Rituals (1983), Dutch writer Nooteboom's first book to appear in English, was an agreeably discursive study in mid-life crisis. This much slighter novella (80 pp.) also centers on a moody, blocked, aging writer--with the familiar post-modernist device of a story-within-a-story used to touch on themes of creativity, identity, jealousy. ""The writer,"" respected but only semi-successful, is slowly, half-heartedly putting together a new fiction, chapters of which pop up at regular intervals. The story, which seems to arbitrarily make itself up as it goes along, concerns two Bulgarians--a soldier, a doctor--in the 1870s; they become friends during the war against Turkey; they debate the issue of national pride (the Doctor prefers non-Bulgarian qualities); and when the Doctor marries a beguiling Italian woman named Lyre, the inevitable adulterous triangle takes shape (with the Doctor almost actively bringing his wife and best friend together). Meanwhile, ""the writer,"" when not musing on the metaphysics of fiction, is having periodic, edgy chats with ""the other writer""--a more commercial, less introspective sort who urges ""the writer"" to give up his existentialist leanings and simply tell stories. (""For that kind Of highly intellectual exercise you need caliber, and you don't have that."") But though there are parallels to be found between the Doctor/Soldier relationship and that of the two writers, the narrative/philosophical ""reality"" game here--cf. D. M. Thomas et al.--never becomes more than a vaguely intriguing whimsy. And the primary (minor) appeal comes instead from ""the writer's"" dry, amusing asides about the Dutch publishing/literary world.