by Knopf, $22.95. Ivy Compton-Burnett (1884-1969) was a novelist and, insofar as Ms. Spurling has been able to discover, only a novelist. She did not leave a mass of journals, diaries, or letters; she seldom traveled very far from London; she did not join clubs or promote causes. She just sat at home and wrote. That sort of industry is hard on the practitioner’s subsequent biographer. Ms. Spurling is necessarily driven to the hypothetical reconstruction of a largely interior life from clues in her subject’s published fiction, and deserves credit for making intelligent, reasonable use of what she has to go on. She also takes takes full advantage of Compton-Burnett’s one nonliterary occupation, which was collecting a large number of eccentric and waspishly articulate friends, whose doings provide the reader with considerable amusement..