The Prince’s Boy

Written by Paul Bailey
Review by John Kachuba

In a book review, Ambrose Bierce once wrote: “The covers of this book are too far apart.” That same criticism could be applied to this novel – a novella really – even though it is already a short read at 160 pages.

Dinu Grigorescu, the narrator, looks back forty years to when he was a 19-year-old affluent and aimless youth transplanted from his native Romania to 1920s Paris. The publisher bills the novel as “a bohemian adventure,” and it does contain almost every cliché know to “Gay Paris” of that time. Dinu is an uninspired writer living in a garret apartment in Montmartre, everyone smokes Turkish cigarettes and drinks Turkish coffee, and there is even the requisite appearance of Josephine Baker.

Dinu does not simply experience bohemian adventure; within only a few pages he is visiting a brothel for gay men where he orders “a brute,” who, only a few hours later, ridiculously declares his love for Dinu. The remainder of the novel explores their short – he dies – but apparently memorable love affair. Like the movies of decades gone by when, after a few chaste kisses, the camera pans to the starry sky rather than the bedroom, here all the graphic sex occurs off the page; this is not pornography.

But it is not a riveting story, either. Hobbled by sentences like: “His pimples and warts and blackheads were mine to worship” and “I lay back and paid homage to Razvan with my now slightly liver-spotted right hand,” the writing is hackneyed and pedestrian, not at all what would be expected from a past Man Booker Prize nominee. Worse, there is no compelling reason why Dinu’s story needs to be told, other than as a masturbatory remembrance for his now-aging self.

Gay or straight readers are advised to save their money.