Kitty and Virgil

Paul Bailey, Author Overlook Press $25.95 (280p) ISBN 978-1-58567-010-9
Bailey, whose first novel, At the Jerusalem, won several British awards and who has been twice shortlisted for the Booker since, is too little known here, as the arrival of the luminous book, his first in seven years, reminds us. It is at once a wistful and tender love story and a harrowing account of how people from two utterly different cultures and ways of looking at the world can find, then lose, each other. Kitty Crozier is a sweet 30-something Londoner who works as an indexer for publishers. Into her life one day comes Virgil Florescu, a refugee from the Romanian regime of Nicolae Ceausescu who had escaped his unhappy country by swimming the Danube at night, and later found work as an attendant in Green Park. Virgil is a superb creation, a poet who is at once funny and self-knowing, has a sly wit and an abiding gift for happiness. The problem in his life is the continuing existence of his father, who under the sway of bestial wartime nationalism has committed unspeakable acts-acts for which gentle Virgil feels he must atone. A cast of scintillating characters is mostly revealed in brilliant dialogue set pieces: Kitty's father, a vain, foppish man who had been a male model in America and has taken up with a mordantly witty butler in his dotage; Kitty's sister, Daisy, a terror in her youth, now unhappily waspish in middle age; even Virgil's landlady, a former opera singer succored by her unforgettable memories about life on the lower rungs of that art. Bailey's fertile invention and kindly humor spark them all to life, and the ultimate tribute to his book is that it manages to be unutterably sad without being in any way mawkish, and that it reminds one again and again of the sheer pleasures of a story told with empathy, elegance and an unfailing delight in the language. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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