Fowles calls his new novel, which basically is homage to the philosophical underpinnings of Shakerism and to the moral narratives of Defoe, "a maggot": a 17th-century-style working-out of an obsessive theme. In length and relative linearity, the book is just that. The fictional kernel is small: the strange journey of an English lord, his deaf/dumb valet, and ex-whore maid and two other ancillaries that results in a scene of revelation enacted in a cave; then death, disappearance, and legal reconstruction of the happening. The lord's father hires a lawyer--and most of the book is composed of this lawyer's interrogatories with the surviving participants, namely the ex-whore, now named Rebecca and become a mystic (and the mother-to-be of Anne Lee, the founder of Shakerism). Conducted wholly in period English, these depositions have an eloquence and pith that are impressive. Less so are Fowles' buttings-in in modern language, during which he comments from the vantage point of a later age on Rebecca's salvationism, its mixtures of pure feminism and communism and fervor. In the questions and answers of the lawyer and Rebecca, these ideas have drama, but when Fowles steps back to gloss them, they curl up ("In truth these two were set apart from each other not only by countless barriers of age, sex, class, education, native province and the rest, but by something far deeper still: by belonging to two very different halves of the human spirit, perhaps at root those, left and right, of the two hemispheres of the human brain"), and they are as pungent as commentary on educational TV. Though the dogged antiqueness of it all may put some readers off, it's the very virtuoso power of the language--the ideas in context--that makes the novel interesting. Once Fowles dusts the ideas off and puts them plain in his own voice, they seem unremarkable.