The elegant narrative of this story will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it. I bought it thinking it was a novel about a young aristocratic Romanian living in Paris in 1927, but after reading the first few pages, I soon discovered it is much more than a coming of age story. It is a love story – a very captivating love story – between two men. But please don’t assume that if you’re a heterosexual the story won’t have any relevance for you. Trust me, it will. There were times when I forgot that the author (Paul Bailey) was taking about a love affair between two men; rather it features a love affair between two human beings, which is strong, bold and enduring.
Dinu was nineteen when he went on a four month sabbatical to Paris from his native Bucharest. The young, intelligent aristocrat, mourning the death of his beloved mother, went to Paris on a bohemian adventure. Funded by his wealthy father, Dinu intended to learn about the great French writers, including Marcel Proust. His ambition was to one day become a great writer himself. He was only in Paris for a little while before he met Razvan in very unconventional circumstances! Razvan was in his late thirties and came with a fascinating personal history. He had originated from a Romanian peasant family but was adopted by a Romanian prince as a child and brought up as a gentleman, hence his nickname – The Prince’s boy. However, after the prince died, Razvan found himself in ‘no-man’s land’. Although refined and educated, life presented him challenges because he was neither of noble blood nor was he any longer a peasant. Cut off from his family, country, roots and identity, he had little money. But his luck changed when he met Dinu.
Dinu and Razvan fall madly and deeply in love. Razvan casts his spell over Dinu and educates him about literature and art. Their love remains steadfast after Dinu returns to Romania to continue his studies, and despite the long gaps apart, their love for each other does not diminish. There is a host of funny and eccentric characters in the book who keep the story alive and fresh during their time apart. We learn that Dinu hates his money obsessed father, who has remarried, and that he was callous to Dinu when he found out that he was a homosexual. His stepmother, though, becomes a great friend and ally. Secret trysts take place when Ravel makes trips to Romania to visit his ailing mother. The political situation in Romania sees the rise of Nazism and the persecution of the Jews, which horrified Dinu and made him hate his father even more (along with extended family members for their financial greed and corruption). He leaves Romania for good and returns to Paris to be with Razvan.
Back in Paris, life passed along comfortably for them for a couple more years. They were now more mature and had relaxed better into each other’s psyche. Then suddenly one day, Razvan had a stroke and died shortly afterwards, bringing their ten year love affair to a sad close. The story is somewhat hurried after that – mainly because Dinu never recovers from Razvan’s death and never enters another relationship. Although he became a distinguished lecturer and literature critic, we are left feeling that his life remained perpetually half-empty after Razvan’s death. The story ends thirty years after Razvan had passed away. Dinu, now in poor health himself, enters the cemetery with a large bunch of anemones to place on the grave of the man who had mesmerised him while alive and created a void in his heart after his death.
This is not a long book – 151 pages. You could easily read it in one sitting, although I savoured it over the course of four days. The decadent lives of the rich and privileged who lived in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s is warmly captured. I was so glad I read it. It’s a little gem that is beautifully written and conveys, without strain, a tender and warm story. Although I wholeheartedly commend Paul Bailey (picture inset) for his excellent talent, my only criticism of The Prince’s Boy is that I felt it was slightly rushed in a few parts – making me wonder if another draft might have smoothed out the parts that weren’t as taut as others. However, based on the acknowledgements page, I am surmising that Bailey, who is aged 79, may not have enjoyed the best of health in recent times. I am really grateful he wrote this book, though, which was published in 2015. He is undoubtedly an accomplished author who has written several other novels over the past four decades.
© Declan Henry