February 06, 1989 12:00 PM

by Edna O’Brien

O’Brien’s new novel—her first in 11 years—has the dismaying impact of a bad, but not quite terrible, dream. The reader sinks into a squirming unease with no chance for a cathartic scream. Vacationing in Spain, O’Brien’s middle-aged heroine, Anna, is trying to overcome another rotten affair. She’s not alone. Nearly everybody in this seaside resort is an emotional wreck, and every time Anna turns a corner, she runs into another crisis. A young boy drowns. An old man clutches his heart. A dead son spews out his hatred on tape. The people she meets are walking casualties of failed romance and bloated pride. Anna stumbles forward—and into a flower-strewn affair with a local girl. Of course, she is punished for the seduction. O’Brien was denounced from the pulpit in her native Ireland when her tales of female lust (The Country Girls) appeared in the ’60s. One could only wish for a little more lust here. For all the beauty of O’Brien’s prose, The High Road is a deadly dull story that never pulls itself up from the valley of its own depression. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $18.95)

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