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Auchincloss turns to Louis XIV; The Cat and the King, by Louis Auchincloss. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. $10. 95.

"He reigned, indeed, in little things; the great he could never reach. . . ." When France's spectacular Louis XIV is summed up in this way by a lesser member of his court, it seems clear that a cat may not only look at a king but look down on him. The quoted words are by Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon, in the monumental posthumous "Memoirs" that gave him more fame than could his courtly career.

Now, in a small novel echoing Saint-Simon's observant prose, Louis Auchincloss imagines the duc writing about himself after the 'Memoirs" have been completed -- a man dwelling on the coarseness and corruption in the midst of royal splendor even as he quests for order and "virtue."

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The niceties of rank and lineage loom large to Saint-Simon, making him congenial company in the Auchincloss body of fiction set in more recent times.

It all adds up to an interesting literacy exercise for readers with a taste for palace gossip; a succinct evocation of a tawdry-elegant time; and, in the words of Saint-Simon's wife, a clue to how those "Memoirs" came about: "I've read all your notes, your memoranda, even your journal! I've read every scrap of paper in our whole house. And I know what you are at last. What you really are. You're not really a duke or a soldier or even a courtier. Your're a writer!"

Which Auchincloss's Saint-Simon proceeds to prove by noting that he's not sure his wife thought this was an honorable t hing to be.

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