The nameless narrator of Heather McGowan’s novel lives in Rome with her lover and his 8-year-old brother, whose education she oversees. ”He is the child and I am the adult, not the other way around,” she reminds herself. But for most of the book, this curious woman — who believes the purchase of the right sunglasses will ”stave off death” — seems to prove the opposite. She’s confused about the boy’s age. She mopes around their apartment until he makes her a sandwich. She gives him scotch to dull the pain of a splinter. She is kind of maddening in her comical self-absorption… and yet perfectly lovable, especially as her tenderness for her young charge becomes increasingly clear. Told in a stream of consciousness infused with a delicious, dry humor, Duchess of Nothing is a lovely look at loneliness and connection.