January 13, 1997 12:00 PM

by Anita Brookner

If the British novelist Anita Brookner were a painter, she’d be a pointillist. Like the artists who use tiny dabs of color that, seen from a distance, blend into an image, Brookner piles up detail after detail about a character’s emotional life, which becomes completely visible only at a book’s end. In this novel she uses her exacting technique to limn London solicitor Alan Sherwood, a conventional man overwhelmed by a single great passion. His love for Sarah, a distant relation, eventually destroys his marriage, and in the wake of the affair he walks the world like a shell-shocked soldier. The book’s theme is the destructive power of love. Brookner doesn’t describe Sarah’s in any depth, yet in the author’s view, it seems, love has no reason. Though impressive for its craftsmanship, Altered States is unremittingly dark, turning the thrill of romance into a shudder. (Random House, $23)

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