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Love, and a life half-lived,
This review is from: The Prince's Boy (Hardcover)
"It is love I am writing about in this memoir of a life half-lived," explains Dinu, the narrator of this elegant novella. He is looking back forty years to his youth in Paris, where he met Razvan, a prostitute twice his age, in a high-class male brothel, and began the one great passion of his life. As a Professor of Literature steeped in the classics, especially in Proust - whose presence is woven into the texture of this story - he writes in the restrained, literary style of an earlier age, yet without the circumlocutions of a Proust or a Balzac; his style is perhaps closer to Maupassant, pared to its essentials.
Razvan, the prince's boy of the title, came from a Romanian peasant family; the prince adopted him as a child and had him brought up as a gentleman. After his death, Razvan drifted, cut off from his family, country, roots and identity. Dinu, meanwhile, has been sent by his wealthy father from Romania to Paris to realise his dream of becoming another Proust. Finding his way to the brothel, his great affair with Razvan begins. Secrecy makes it all the more exciting and transgressive. After their idyllic summer together in Paris, nineteen year old Dinu returns to Romania to continue his studies. His career begins to take precedence over his affair, but the two remain faithful to each other during the years ahead. With great economy, Dinu summarises the years that follow: his career as a university teacher, critic and writer; the rise of the Nazi and the persecution of the Jews; the political situation in Romania (Nazi supporting); the corruption of his father and cousin; the growing closeness of Amalia, his new stepmother, and his step-sister; his conversations and letters with Albert, the brothel keeper. The story begins with Dinu sitting in the brothel on a chaise-longue that once belonged to Proust's mother, and it ends with his remembering that forty years later. The chaise-longue is symbolic of sex, love, and literature, of homosexuality and disguises, of past epochs, of memory; for Dinu, it also symbolises the beginning of the great passion that filled half his life to the exclusion of all others and left the other half empty after Razvan's death.
This novella is written in the style of a European classic. I, for one, say three cheers for this. Thank heavens writers can still write texts steeped in the culture and elegance of classic texts - and still get them published. This is not a pastiche or a throwback but a homage to the great European - particularly French - tradition. And you can read it with perfect ease, preferably in one sitting, before you turn back and start again. I loved it.