Synopses & Reviews
The author of the critically acclaimed Schooling
returns with a darkly comic novel about a mentally unpredictable woman intent on giving a young boy a proper education.
After leaving her husband and their suffocating marriage for a new lover in Rome, the narrator of Heather McGowan's Duchess of Nothing has her freedom, but is still trapped by the routine of life and haunted by her past. Even worse, her lover, Edmund, is just as self-absorbed and remote as her former husband. Her one source of entertainment is Edmund's seven-year-old brother, a curious, precocious, and defiant child who becomes her responsibility during her lover's long absences. Spending their days together, they wander the city, simultaneously repelled by and drawn to each other as she teaches him important lessons he would otherwise never learn in school, such as "marriage is a tomb" and being an expert liar is key to getting ahead in the world. But when Edmund abandons them altogether, the amusing relationship between the narrator and her charge suddenly becomes a necessity, and she realizes how much she has come to depend on the boy.
Clever, wry, and acutely aware of her own precarious grasp on the world around her, the narrator of McGowan's pitch-perfect novel speaks with a cutting honesty and a hilarious, twisted logic that keeps us riveted to the page.
Starred Review. McGowan's maverick follow-up to her debut, Schooling (2001), stars a 30-ish divorced American woman who, it is implied, has the lithe frame, iconic features and sophisticated trashiness of Holly Golightly. Too smart for her own good and lacking Holly's ambition or drive, the nameless narrator is living in Rome with young, faceless lover Edmundand caring for Edmund's seven-year-old half-brother. Edmund is described mostly in terms of the beauty of his back, about which the narrator is careful to instruct "Edmund's brother" (aka "the boy") lest he get duped into loving an unworthy object (as she has). The boy's "education" (she forbids him to go to school) is in fact her preoccupation, allowing McGowan to give the woman's autodidactic rants (on love) free rein. When Edmund abruptly leaves the odd menage, the woman and the boy run out of money, get increasingly desperate and contemplate ways of finding Edmund that won't make them lose face. The woman's absolute devotion to tiny matters of style and comportment, and her resolute obliviousness to the ridiculously mannered, bafflingly anachronistic figure she cuts, is a lode McGowan mines with relish as she slowly chips away at the woman's love for the boy. Weeks after finishing this singular, pointedly frustrating novel, readers will find that nameless woman's mind still moving restlessly within them. (Mar. 28) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"If Molly Bloom could speak again, if Molloy could write to us from Rome, we would have something as bewitching as Duchess of Nothing, where Heather McGowan once again reclaims wit, philosophy and beauty as among the birthrights of great fiction." Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli
"Heather McGowan is the most elegant, arresting and lucid prose stylist I have encountered in years." Rick Moody
"A truly original premise, artfully developed into a memorable and perversely entertaining comic horror story." Kirkus Reviews
After leaving her husband and her suffocating marriage for the romance and promise of Rome, the narrator of Duchess of Nothing has her freedom but is still trapped by the routine of life and haunted by her past. Charming, manic, and acutely aware of her own precarious grasp on the world around her, the narrator speaks with a kind of absurd logic that makes the book impossible to put down.
About the Author
Heather McGowan has an MFA from Brown and has received fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She is the author of the novel Schooling, which was listed as Best Book of the Year by Newsweek, the Detroit Free Press, and the Hartford Courant.