Flippant, post-Calvino novel about, or not about, a near- pornographic heroine named Hortense, by French mathematics professor Roubaud (The Great Fire of London, 1991). In the first chapter, with many asides, Roubaud lingers over Hortense as she takes a bath and then dresses to go shopping, at which point Roubaud announces, ``Warning: each detail of this chapter must be observed with the strictest attention, for each is important in its own way and will not be brought up again.'' This kind of thing was more interesting in Calvino, who loved to lull the reader into madness but always had a serious theme in mind; Roubaud just wants to play. Lovely Hortense is affianced to Prince Gormanskoi of Poldevia, but she's trapped in a foreign land, or rather in several different levels of reality, all fabricated by the interfering author, whose publisher tries to intervene with hopes of getting the story underway. What is the story? Something about Hortense getting together with the stupid prince, and about an evil twin of the prince who keeps recycling old melodramas to keep them apart. Then there's a fraudulent Hortense, and some dreadful espionage against some kingdom or other. And what about those pornographic snapshots of Hortense that may or may not have blackmail potential? It's The Mouse That Roared by way of Derrida. Or it's male fantasy disguised as clever intellectual repartee. It's often amusing, and it's often just plain silly.