An Indecent Obsession

by Colleen McCullough.
Harper & Row,
$13.50. Ms. McCullough’s novel is set in a jungle hospital where, at the tag end of World War II, a group of Australian soldiers have been stowed away for battle fatigue. They are dependent on, and in their various and sometimes regrettable ways devoted to, the nurse who manages the place. Everyone is getting along quite well until the arrival of a man who appears to be mentally normal and therefore to have no business on the premises. Violence ensues. The arrangement is a reasonable scheme for a novel, but the author has a plodding style and a habit of setting the important episodes offstage. The combination of the routine being described directly while the exciting is reported secondhand is not forbidden to a novelist (nothing is forbidden to a novelist—the form is a triumph of anarchy), but it does not work well for Ms. McCullough.