After leaving her husband and their suffocating marriage for a new lover in Rome, the narrator of Heather McGowan's "Duchess of Nothing" has her freedom, but is still trapped by the routine of life and haunted by her past. Even worse, her lover, Edmund, is just as self-absorbed and remote as her former husband. Her one source of entertainment is Edmund's seven-year-old brother, a curious, precocious and defiant child who becomes her responsibility during her lover's long absences. Spending their days together, they wander the city, simultaneously repelled by and drawn to each other as she tries to provide him with some kind of education. But when Edmund abandons them altogether, the amusing relationship between the narrator and her charge suddenly becomes a necessity, and she realises how much she has come to depend on the boy.