While I consider myself reasonably well-read, sadly my exploration of LGBTQ literature has been to say the least, lackluster. Fortunately, what little I have read I’ve enjoyed, including the fiction of several excellent lesbian authors. For example, two years ago Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests narrowly beat out Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics as the best novel I read in 2017. Years ago, after Jeanette Winterson charmed and intrigued me at a Portland Arts and Lectures presentation I ran out and purchased a discounted copy of her 1985 novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I ended up loving it. I’ve also had good luck with Dorothy Allison, enjoying both Bastard out of Carolina and her essay collection Skin. Lastly, in 2017 had I done an Honorable Mention list for the year’s best fiction I would have given the nod to Alexis M. Smith’s 2016 Lamda Award-winning novel Marrow Island.
On the other hand, my exposure to gay authors has been limited. A few years out of college I read Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice after someone told me it takes place during a cholera epidemic. (I’m a sucker for disease books.) Only recently have I explored the nonfiction writing of John Berendt. The City of Falling Angels made for great reading and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil looks to be a lock for my end of the year Favorite Nonfiction list.
I can now add Paul Bailey to my short list of LGTBQ authors. Something clicked that day at the library when I came across a copy of his 2014 novel The Prince’s Boy. Not only was I in the mood for short piece of historical fiction, I liked its cover art. Since it’s only 150 pages long I whipped through it in no time. I’m happy to report I enjoyed it.
The year is 1927 and Dinu Grigorescu, a young Romanian man, has been sent to Paris by his wealthy father to be educated and cultured in the ways of the world. Following his deeply hidden desires he enters a gay brothel and ends up indulging those desires with Razvan, a fellow Romanian. Soon the two of them strike out on their own, enjoying all that Paris has to offer. Over the course of their relationship, Dinu learns his lover Razvan is a man with a past, and a troubled one at that. The novel covers about 40 years, encompassing the rise of Fascism, World War II, and the post-war period, as Dinu looks back on his life as an expat in London.
With roughly half the novel set in Romania and told from the perspective of a Romanian, I’m temped to apply this towards Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. Yes, this is a short novel. However, as one reviewer in Goodreads pointed out sometimes less is more. So if that’s the case it’s no surprise The Prince’s Boy makes for satisfying reading.