FLAUBERT'S PARROT by Julian Barnes (Vintage: $8.95) . In this extraordinary work of literary legerdemain, Julian Barnes combines a novel with a rumination on the life and work of the 19th-Century novelist Gustave Flaubert. A quest to determine authenticity of two rival museums that claim to display the stuffed parrot Flaubert used as a model for Loulou in the story "A Simple Heart" takes amateur scholar Geoffrey Braithwaite down curious paths of historical research and self-examination. The story of Braithwaite's dreary life and failed marriage emerge from his discussions of Flaubert's work, especially "Madame Bovary," much the way the story of Charles Kinbote and John Shade does from the notes in Nabokov's "Pale Fire." "Flaubert's Parrot" suggests the prose equivalent of a Cubist portrait, with the artist examining a single facet of his subject from a constantly shifting point of view and creating a startlingly realistic image from a seemingly unrelated details. Fascinating.