A jaundiced piece of Italian philosophical Gothic written more than 20 years ago, now getting a second life primarily in Europe. A Milanese publisher, Count Aleardo di Grees, goes sailing off in search of tranquility and finds instead a set of tiny islands off Portugal. On one, he happens upon the ruins of an aristocracy--dotty brothers whose line extends back through Lady Hamilton but who now are reduced to bitter eccentricities, not the least of which is their treatment of the servant Estrelita. Estrelita is a young iguana, though, not a girl--and the fracture of expectation and reality finally turns the Count into a participant in the surreal drama: he grows obsessed with the iguana and wants to take her back to Milan with him. (His obsession is really with disadvantage and his own pity.) Ortese does not hold back on authorial comments, triple sec and world-weary; and these provide the book with a certain pungency. But more often the novel seems like a Victorian fantasy-etching: painstakingly detailed to one or two rather obvious ends.