No matter how many metaphors, moral dilemmas, and parallel plots British writer Thubron has rounded up to make his latest novel significant, it remains a trite love story too leaden to rise above the banal. From his prison cell, where he is serving a sentence for murder, journalist Mark Swabey tells the story of his fatal attraction to circus acrobat "Clara the Swallow." This allows him to generate a little dramatic tension as he lets out in dribs and drabs how he came to be there, in prison, though halfway through it's easy to figure what's coming up. The method also allows him to draw parallels between Clara's love of freedom--she performed without a safety-net--and his fellow prisoners, who in their own ways as criminals have lived freely, disdaining the moral safety-net of law-abiding society. Earlier on, Mark had another lover, beautiful Katherine, who made ecclesiastical stained glass. Unlike Clara, who lived only for the moment, Katherine wanted to live through Mark. Obsessed with Clara, Mark followed the circus round the country and was present when Clara fell. Paralyzed from the neck down, she could not face living and asked Mark to help, which he did--"I freed her into the dark." Sentenced to a year in prison for his action, he has no regrets for what he did. Clara and prison--where a fellow prisoner, in another parallel, attempts a daring escape along a wire rope--have taught him that it is better to fall than not to climb at all. Freedom is all. An acceptable sentiment, but while Thubron writes vividly of places, his characters and plot are little better than clichÇs. This one falls more than it soars.