This was the Prix Goncourt a couple of years ago and had it been the Prix Femina there would have been less surprise since real literary distinction has yielded to a smoky sophistication. Mme. Charles-Roux was the Paris editor of Vogue for twelve years and there are high fashion touches here on Fair, the New York equivalent of this magazine to which Sicilian Gianna Meri comes as a travel writer. Can she forget Palermo?. Can the Leopard change its spots, however sleek a leopard?. Obviously not, for Gianna is always going back in her mind to the grandeur that was and the poverty that is--phantom pride stalks through crumbling courtyards and dusty streets. ""Things left, things lost"" obsess her. On the other hand, there's Rocco Bonavia, second generation, who has worked his way up through the New York political scene to overcome his childhood. But when he marries Gianna's friend on Fair and goes with her to Sicily, it is as if committed to an ineluctable fate. . . . The book has been tremendously successful in France, substantially so in Italy and Germany, and that's the publisher expectation here. While not important, its gesture of sentimental exorcism persuades and Palermo is remembered in soft and seductive tones.