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 In her American debut, British writer Harkness offers an uneven fairy tale of unrequited love. Once upon a time, in a remote section of southeastern France, lived an elderly Prince Charming in an ugly old chÉteau. Alone except for his maid and cook, Virgil de Brillancourt is actually quite happy. He has his exceptional library, his collections of insects and magnifying glasses, his beautiful garden, and the occasional companionship of numerous amiable relatives. Although he is a handsome man and a very fine dancer, M. de Brillancourt has never married; at 69 his romantic memories center on the fairy lights from summer balls given for his sisters. The only thing he pines for is children: He misses the ``patter of tiny feet''; he longs to tell eager little ones about the ongoing battle between the wasps and stag beetles that live in the trees around his home. In order to acquire some children, M. de Brillancourt builds a swimming pool and rents out part of his chÉteau to a young Englishwoman and her family. One day, after seeing his tenant in only the bottom half of her bikini, M. de Brillancourt falls in love. Radiant with happiness, he celebrates his belatedly awakened passion by buying a red Lamborghini. He becomes gregarious and, at the first party he has ever given, he waltzes with his true love. But it's his only fling. When she returns to London, he goes mad. A comic subplot in which M. de Brillancourt's relatives try to protect him from suspected alcoholism and cross-dressing seems contrived to flesh a short story into a novella, and his fatal depression seems too fast a wrap-up for this lovely man. At its best, a charming sketch of a shy eccentric with mouthwatering vistas of the Ardäche. But in the end, the plot and charm seem force-fed.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-11854-6
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1994