The Duchess of Nothing, by Heather McGowan

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The Independent Culture

McGowan's first novel, Schooling, was so stylistically challenging it was hard to finish. Her second novel, though no less complex in content, is hard to put down. Like her debut, her new novel centres around the sinister pedagogic relationship between an adult and child. The novel's nameless female narrator is left to educate and look after her absent lover's seven-year old brother in a small flat in Rome. Each day she tutors him in some aspect of adult behaviour, from marriage to hygiene to the art of smoking. " 'The boy is driving me insane'" she remarks at one point "I might as well have married him."