Thomas (Pictures at an Exhibition, 1993; Eating Pavlova, 1994, etc.) treats us to another trashy feast of cheap sensation and obvious sentiment, in the course of which--imperceptibly at first and against every expectation--he nearly manages to extract the rabbit from his hat. But not quite. Simon Hopkins, a second-rate novelist and the head of Fiction Therapy at Skagathos Holidays (``the New Age holistic centre on the Greek island of Skagathos''), is responsible for the literary egos of the 11 bad amateurs who have paid good money to come to Greece to join his workshop. Even by workshop standards they are a pretty pathetic bunch, and it is Simon's unhappy task to convince them--by having them do such things as chant ``We are as the gods'' for half an hour each morning--that they can write. Simon harbors no illusions: ``It's a load of crap, of course; but in a sense that's why they're here. At least it's different crap from what they get at home.'' His main concern at first is getting laid, an appetite his students share. Trouble enters this lubricous world, however, when one of Simon's students commits suicide. The group dwindles. Meanwhile, Simon learns that his wife is seeing another man, his publisher is starting to remainder his books, and an old girlfriend has given birth to his child. A man of less ordinary abilities would find a way of working off these travails in his art, but Simon is self-aware enough to know he isn't that kind of writer, that he will never win the coveted Booker Prize, and that in some major way his life will have to change. When (at the very end) it does, he is amazed, but his amazement is the only convincing element of an implausible finale that fits neither the circumstances at hand nor the story at large. Good-natured and amusing, but flimsy as a house of cards. A near-miss.