In this fictionalized family-chronicle, d'Ormesson (The Glory of the Empire) seems rather like a taxidermist, stuffily replicating the lost minions of a blueblood clan devoted to ""the parish priest, riding to hounds, reverence for the white flag of royalism, and the family name."" From the castle of Plessis-lez-Vaudreuil issues a family who ""never bought. . . and never sold. . . just accumulated through marriages and deaths, dowries and legacies,"" a family whose good fortunes owed mostly ""to the absence of ideas."" Stroll down the portrait gallery: Aunt Gabrielle and her avant-garde salon, the brother who became a fascist and the one who turned communist; the movie star, the scandalously married; the New Left grandchildren and the majestic grandfather. Spasms of history rather than spurts of personal life move this book; the narrator narrates but tells nothing of himself--and 480 pages of non-intimate long-viewing is a little tough. When the family must, in its decline, sell the castle after World War II, d'Ormesson's reserve gives way to a sostenuto of passionate sadness that proves the book's high point: sentiment given a rare legitimization. But the boulevardiering tone everywhere else, plus the faint starchiness, recommends this to Francophiles in the main and maybe to those nostalgics for whom anything past is peachy.