West sequel disappoints

This Real Night, by Rebecca West. New York: Viking. 266 pp.galleys $16.95. This is the never-published sequel, written years ago and worked on at odd times ever since, to West's 1956 novel ``The Fountain Overflows,'' about a musically gifted family living in London in the years just before World War I. A fragmentary further continuation (the work was to have been a trilogy) is promised soon.

``This Real Night'' evokes the ``sense of leisure'' indulged, even as war nears, by the Aubrey family during assorted outings and visits characterized by a forced sunniness and jollity, then through the escalating traumas of a sister's marriage, the brother's death in combat, and the mother's lingering last illness.

It's not a finished book: The scenes seem interminable, the ardent, art-centered conversations mannered and pointless; the characters rattle on and on in a manner best described as dithering. Yet the climactic pages are affecting; the presence of death and their acknowledgment of it seem to heighten these people's reality: We feel their pain, and we at last begin to care about them. By then it's too late; most readers will have already put the book down.

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