Fairy tale has been a consistent thread in Dutch writer Nooteboom's oeuvre (Rituals, In The Dutch Mountains), freely spun if a little too preciously fragile. Here, he uses a young boy's first fecklessness--a trip through Europe--to gather the indelible personalties that weave the tales the narrator, Philip, finds so mythic and radiant. A Eurydicean girl with Chinese eyes leads him from Calais through the Continent, a spiritual, if incomplete journey that sheds grace for him here and there. But best of all is the opening section, in which Philip pays a visit to his spooky, almost-preserved old uncle Alexander, a harpsichordist who for some brief weeks, years and years before, fell in love with a sparkling boy child, a neighbor, who was like the sun to him. This old uncle, utterly encrusted with eccentricity, is a breathtaking, sepulchral creature who talks about having subsequently married himself, revealing his oddness as a spiritual escape-hole. Other than this eerily beautiful set-piece, however, the book's grail quest is mostly flat and obligatory.