The haunting novel from Paul Bailey, whose work has been short-listed twice for the Booker Prize.
At the age of seventy, Andrew Peters looks back across the years to remember life with his doting Uncle Rudolf, who rescued him from fascist Romania as a child. Vivid, often hilarious, stories of Rudolf’s brilliant but blighted singing career are intertwined with the slow unfolding of secrets that have shadowed Andrew’s otherwise happy life. Told in matchless prose, this deeply moving novel captures a vanished epoch with exquisite tact and restraint.
‘A finely-wrought meditation on language, art, melancholia, lyric tenors, loss. Paul Bailey’s book contains exquisitely poignant moods of regret.’ Jane Shilling, Sunday Telegraph
‘A poised and elegant tale.’ Amellia Hill, Observer
‘Lyrical and touching.’ Michael Arditti, The Times
‘An exquisitely composed novel of doubleness, dubeity and prolonged protected silences.’ Guardian
‘This fine and thoughtful tale is given a bittersweet seductiveness by the elegant sophistication of Bailey’s writing and the splendid flamboyance of his central character.’ Lucy Hughes-Hallet, Guardian
‘The underlying story is sad – harrowing, indeed – but there is spicy humour here too. Andrew himself is an appealing narrator: honest, troubled, perceptive. It is the clarity of his vision that gives the novel its crisp and satisfying accuracy, and makes it one of Paul Bailey’s best books.’ Independent
‘This is a beautifully worked cultural fable, elliptically presented after the manner Bailey has made uniquely his own. But it’s more than this; the teller of the tale and his subject love one another deeply, and their love transfigures the world they find themselves in.’ Spectator
About the author
Paul Bailey is the author of At the Jerusalem (1967) which won the Somerset Maugham Award,Trespasses (1970),A Distant Likeness (1973), Peter Smart’s Confessions (1977), shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Old Soldiers (1980), and Sugar Cane (1993). He was the first recipient of the E.M. Forster Award and won a George Orwell Prize for his essay ‘The Limitations of Despair’.
Part exile's lament and part psychological study, this brief novel by Bailey (Kitty & Virgil, etc.) explores the complicated, intense relationship between a Romanian lyric tenor and his adoring nephew during the years preceding and following WWII. Andrew Petrescu (later Peters) is seven in 1937 when his father a Romanian debt collector who marries a woman with Jewish blood finds the situation in Romania increasingly precarious and sends Andrew to live in England with his superbly talented Uncle Rudolf. Introducing Andrew to his freewheeling artistic world, Rudolf becomes the boy's de facto parent, adviser and mentor. The narrative then flashes back to Rudolf's musical education and his lucrative decision to sing commercially popular operettas, a choice that proves costly on a personal level when Rudolf regrets not pursuing a career in serious opera. As Andrew grows up, he becomes increasingly dependent on his uncle, to the extent that his brief marriage fails and he finds himself living vicariously through Rudolf's successes and failures. Bailey's unflinching depiction of Andrew's obsessive, nearly pathological love for his uncle is alternately moving and disturbing, and his gradual revelation of the fate of Andrew's parents adds an element of suspense to the story. The flamboyance of London theater life contrasts strikingly with the melancholia of exile and the horrors of war as Bailey plays masterfully with chiaroscuro in this moody, unsentimental novel.