An eminent but broken-down art historian named Kreutzner lives in an island aerie with his strange assistant Licht--and the two one day find themselves playing host to a party of strangers who've been shipwrecked when the chartered boat they were on ran aground offshore. The Professor is the world's greatest authority on the painter Vaublin--creator of Watteau-like scenes of out-of-time mystery, of Pierrot figures gracefully adrift in ambiguous landscapes. When late in the story a newly released convict makes his way to the island as well and takes up residence among the dispossessed of the house, adding yet another character to its unclear society of confused sleepwalkers, Banville (Kepler, 1983; The Book of Evidence, 1990, etc.) has the last element needed to complete his rather mist-laden tableau: "It is the very stillness of their world that permits them to endure; if they stir they will die, will crumble into dust and leave nothing behind save a few scraps of brittle lace, a satin bow, a shoe buckle, a broken mandolin." Quickly discovered by a reader, however, is that nothing is going to happen in this book except prose--high-quality, vaguely old-fashioned art prose--all of it dependent on a connoisseur's patience as the sentences noodle through the art/illusion hoops Banville sets up. Just as no character here does anything (though in the past each might have done something), Banville neither tries to overturn his allegory nor heighten it; he seems placidly satisfied just to set up its pieces and see if they stand. Precious in a showoffy way--and deadly static.