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April 04, 1993|CHARLES SOLOMON

VILLA DES ROSES by Willem Elsschot, translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent (Penguin: $7.95; 140 pp.). "Villa Des Roses" is the first of the short novels that helped to establish Willem Elsschot (the pseudonym of Alfons De Ridder) as one the Netherlands' leading authors. The Villa is a shabby-genteel pensione in Paris, which Elsschot populates with appealing eccentrics: the elegant Madame Dumoulin, who never lets anyone forget she once traveled "in diplomatic circles"; Grunewald, the Polish rake; the decayed and dotty Madame Gendron. Presiding over this ragtag menage is the redoubtable Madame Brulot, whose nose "resembled a Bourbon nose the way back-street mongrels are sometimes reminiscent of fox terriers." The sardonic humor of this brief novel makes it an engaging introduction to the author's work.

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