The spectre of dullness must be every author's nightmare, but who would have imagined so clever a novelist as Heinrich Boll succumbing to it? His latest work is divided into four sections and the most interesting thing about them is deciding which is the dullest. Every so often one catches glimpses of Boll's intention, but the chloroform of his prose works so well that only the drowsiest of conclusions can be offered. A father and son in some German town stand trial for perpetrating an obscure ""Happening,"" including the burning of a jeep, one obviously modeled on Jean Tinguely's self-destroying sculptures. There is scattered talk of pop art and the new consciousness, and no doubt Boll, the upholder of humanistic and Catholic values, wished to comment on the absurdity of current fashion and the demise of culture. Unfortunately, he succeeds only in parodying himself. The novel is dreadfully old-fashioned, a collection of slowly evolving portraits of various townspeople, each representative of aspects of middle class character and professions, each reacting in highly detailed and inescapably boring style to the peculiar crime. Law, religion, sex, money, art, philosophy, politics, journalism--all these abstractions are embodied in cardboard figures quite as if they were members of a morality play. Of course Boll is a serious writer and he knows enough about his craft to give the semblance of a life-like texture or delicacy to his creation. Still, the whole thing reads like third-rate Thomas Mann, teutonic brio-a-brac, as removed as a museum from the world of today.