You know you're in the hands of a master when her sleek and suggestive new novel, a sophisticated comedy of manners, is so smart and seductive that you fail to notice how completely you've accepted a world gone utterly awry. Tom Richards, a prominent British film director, wakes in the hospital a near-cripple; days earlier he'd fallen off a crane while lensing a key scene in his latest effort, The Hamburger Girl, a Proustian mediation on a fleeting event: a real-life tableau from southern France of a girl preparing lunch on an outdoor grill. Tom's fantasizes about endowing this young woman with a fortune, a possibility that's nurtured by the huge wealth of his wife, Claire, an American cookie heiress who endures Tom's on-the-set adulteries by engaging in some illicit affairs of her own. Together, the two put up with their disappointing daughter, Marigold, a dull and censorious creature. Something of a ""natural disaster,"" Marigold cannot equal Tom's beautiful daughter from a previous marriage, Cora, who comes to his aid when Marigold disappears, an event covered in sordid detail by all the tabloids. A student of the ""redundancy"" that seems to be affecting everyone in England--literally at work, and metaphysically at home--Marigold has hidden out among the less fortunate classes, paying back her parents for years of neglect. When Tom's film resumes production, reality and dream further intertwine: Actors confuse their roles with life, Tom's family behaves as if they were in a movie, and Tom himself rants on to his devoted new friend, a West Indian taxi driver with an absolutist sense of morality: a perfect antidote to all the sexual and emotional games being played on this social merry-go-round. The only reason we're never dizzy here is that Spark (A Far Cry from Kensington, 1988, etc.) remains in total control at all times: She can summon a world with a single gesture, a character with one seemingly artless remark. Profound art disguised as a lark.