Islands is not a guidebook but a meditation. The ancient Scillies, a cluster of islands off Englands's southwest coast, are Fowles' point of departure; the book, he writes, is "about the Scillies of a novelist's mind; and beyond them, about the mysteries, symbolic and real, of all similarly situated small islands; about their silences, their otherness, their magi and their mazes, their eternal waiting for a foot to land."

His aim is to evoke the lure of islands, their dangers and enchantments; and having evoked it, to reinvent, or at least to reinvigorate, the mythology of islands. The origins of their monuments, their legends, their superstitions, even their names-Fowles' meditation extends to all of these. Why are the Scillies planted with menhirs and quoits and mazes? Why do sailors fear dogs, seals, and swine? why do the consonant sounds s and l recurin so many maritime words (Scillies, Sicily, seal, sail, Skylla)? Fowles is learned, but questions like these tempt him beyond the pale of learning; he ventures onward as a man of imagination. Resourceful, wily, insatiably curious, he borrows many of the qualities of Ulysses, that first great explorer of islands, and he offers a brilliant, unorthodox reading of the greatest of all island stories,

The Odyssey .

The photographs, more than 50 of them in black-and-white, are not just meditative but brooding. Printed without captions, they do not illustrate the text, nor are they meant to. They form instead a kind of counterpoint, a sympathetic play of image and word. In the photographs the Scillies, for all the solidity of their rocks, seem to hover always on the norizon between sea and sky, seductive and treacherous, waiting for that foot to land. (Little Brown, $10.95)