The Gold Ball

by Hanne Marie Svendsen. Knopf, $18.95. Ms. Svendsen’s novel is set on an imaginary island somewhere off Denmark and follows the history of the place for several centuries. The indigenous inhabitants—a couple of old fishermen—give way to organized settlers, towns, commerce, industry, and even tourists. The author describes generations of increasingly interrelated characters and their absurd or disastrous affairs, creating a small but distinct world. Her mythical island is in fact a metaphor for the real world, and the forces that cause its rise and decline parallel those that threaten us all. Ingeniously constructed, intelligent, admirably written, and ultimately sinister, this work of fiction is impressive.