The nameless narrator of Heather McGowan's novel lives in Rome with her lover and his 8-year-old brother, whose education she oversees. ''He is the child and I am the adult, not the other way around,'' she reminds herself. But for most of the book, this curious woman who believes the purchase of the right sunglasses will ''stave off death'' seems to prove the opposite. She's confused about the boy's age. She mopes around their apartment until he makes her a sandwich. She gives him scotch to dull the pain of a splinter. She is kind of maddening in her comical self-absorption... and yet perfectly lovable, especially as her tenderness for her young charge becomes increasingly clear. Told in a stream of consciousness infused with a delicious, dry humor, Duchess of Nothing is a lovely look at loneliness and connection.