This one of those rare novels you have to read from beginning to end - an achievement in itself. You won't get the flavour of it by simply dipping into it, and you cannot claim to have read it unless you have read the whole thing. In fact, to be honest, I was suspicious about it for much of the time, even while I was enjoying it. True, the Flemish city in which it is set is beautifully evoked; there is a marvellous sense of desolation in the juxtaposition of an ancient medieval burgher town and a North Sea resort out of season - a perfect setting for the central tale of frustrated, self-absorbed, beached love; and the whole thing is always beautifully crafted and paced. But I did think the main character was superficial and needed nothing more than a good slap, and the Symbolism, which forms the sub-text, is so heavy-handed that it makes irony look ironic - the narrator's first love was named Dawn, for God's sake, and the object of his Flemish obsession is called Luc(ifer), the Morning, Evening, Falling, Folding Star - otherwise known as the planet Venus. However, very suddenly, towards the end, just when you think there might be a neat resolution, the surface begins to shatter and break up, the ground collapses beneath you and the selfish farce becomes a universal tragedy. The author leaves you with a startling image that reminded me, strangely, of Tarkovsky: Symbolism suddenly made profound. You realise that this is a novel, not only perfectly-formed, but powerful and profound. It was shortlisted, but it didn't win the Booker prize that year; there must have been an embarrassment of masterpieces. Strangely, I don't recall.