English first-novelist Lamming has provided enough sumptuous and interesting atmosphere here for four books; on the other hand, however, he has neglected to provide the human involvement and narrative movement that might have given this novel some animation or momentum. Cast as the journal of a 16th-century Florentine man who works as a bookkeeper for a rich merchant, the text is crammed with the sights, passions, fears, and incapacities of the High Renaissance. Thus, the beauties of the city (ali of Florence turns out to see the unveiling of Michelangelo's David) are always contrasted with narrator Gismondo's own ugliness: he has a hideous skin tumor on his cheek; he must suffer in shame and hopelessness--because glorious Florence is in some ways quite primitive, with no one who has the faintest idea of how to treat his sad condition. And so Gismondo, painfully isolated (with special scorn from his employer's impudent, hostile son), develops a lonely, secret ardor for an impossibly unreachable widow--while even the consolations of religion prove false and vicious. . . in the person of Fra Girolamo, a popular heretic-burner of the day. Lamming's art-related scenes--audiences with Michelangelo, with Leonardo Da Vinci (who is fascinated by Gismondo's cheek-growth)--are crisply entertaining. Unfortunately, however, the devices for moving the book along grow thinner and thinner throughout: the only wisp of plot or character towards the end involves the question of the ailing employer's will. (Will he make some bequest to Gismondo?) And Lamming is frequently left with nothing to do but set the scene again and again, bringing out one crafty backdrop after another--which may be enough to satisfy some art-oriented, history-loving readers.