Like A Song of Truth and Semblance (1984), this short novel alternates in wry post-modernist fashion between an obviously artificial ""story"" and the musings of the writer who is making up that story. In this case, the tale-within-the-novel is a sort of fairy tale, and the book is fundamentally a meditation on that genre's enduring resonance. The writer is a Spanish road inspector who spends each August writing in the isolation of a dusty, empty schoolroom. His story is set in a half. authentic version of the Netherlands, seen here as a divided land, with guards patrolling the border between the North (flat, prim, domesticated) and the South (freer, rougher, earthier). A ""perfectly"" happy and beautiful couple, circus illusionists Kai (muscular, raven-haired) and Lucia (voluptuous, blond), fall on hard times in the North and are forced to go on tour in the low-class South, where Kai is promptly abducted by the henchmen of""the Snow Queen,"" who keeps him at her castle as her latest chauffeur-cum-sexual-servant. Lucia, aided by old clown Anna, searches for Kai, getting entangled along the way with a religious cult. (""Kai and Lucia, each of the two lost halves of that perfect pair is living under a different, contrary regime to that which goes by the name of love."") And there's the inevitable, yet oddly (intentionally) hollow, happy ending. The writer/narrator constantly interrupts the storytelling--to comment on his own choices of words and phrasing, on Dutch/Spanish translation problems, on Kundera and Plato, on his publisher. The metafictional games (""This book is about reading"") have been played better before, by Calvino and others. The themes--especially the interplay of illusion and myth--are awfully familiar; but there's mildly stimulating, faintly amusing literary diversion here, especially for those with a special interest in the playful variations on European culture-clash.