A beguiling low-key story, from first-time British novelist Barrett, about unconventional parenting so rich in affection that it defies all conventional wisdom. When young American Alex is orphaned at age nine, the elegant brother of her late English father arrives to take charge. Uncle Evelyn, a bachelor and wealthy businessman, is reticent to the point of secrecy about his personal life. This encourages Alex-- who, as her uncle complains, ``has no limits to the luridness of her imagination''--to suspect he might indeed be either her own father, a spy, or a previously married man. Evelyn takes Alex back to London--and though everyone, including his own family, thinks he's most ``unsuitable,'' he's determined to raise the child. Meanwhile, homesick and troubled by nightmares, the young Alex has difficulty adjusting, but Evelyn does his best to comfort her. He takes her traveling, introduces her to his friends, and treats her more like a congenial spirit than a child, which is just fine with Alex, who's not the conventional sort herself. But as she grows older, her curiosity about Evelyn's well-hidden personal life intensifies--especially as friends and relatives express their continuing surprise that someone as unsuitable as Evelyn has taken such good care of her. Evelyn drinks too much when depressed; has an eclectic assortment of male friends, young and old; and has his current mistress move in, but all that matters to Alex is that Evelyn really cares for her--something she's not sure of until she's 16 and realizes that Evelyn is probably bisexual and will always be mysterious. But it doesn't matter--the arrangements he had made for Alex could not have been more suitable. A refreshingly unmawkish tale of a decidedly different but no less loving family, and the promising debut of an accomplished storyteller.