When Kitty Crozier awakens in a hospital one morning, she looks into the face of a stranger with "a glint of something like silver in his smile." Months later, she encounters him again in a London park. This time Virgil Florescu, a dissident poet who fled Romania by swimming across the Danube, doesn't disappear. Virgil's delicate courtship of the shy Kitty blo...
When Kitty Crozier awakens in a hospital one morning, she looks into the face of a stranger with "a glint of something like silver in his smile." Months later, she encounters him again in a London park. This time Virgil Florescu, a dissident poet who fled Romania by swimming across the Danube, doesn't disappear. Virgil's delicate courtship of the shy Kitty blossoms into a captivating romance that shines through even the darkest Eastern European past.
Moving fluidly between contemporary times, 1930s Romania, and England during the 1950s, Kitty & Virgil tells an epic and bittersweet story of two unlikely lovers and their extraordinary families. Paul Bailey writes a humorous and heartbreaking tale that expertly combines a classic English comedy of manners with a haunting meditation on the burdens of the past.
Kitty Crozier wakes up in the hospital and sees the fleeting image of Virgil Florescu, a dissident poet who swam across the Danube to escape Ceausescu's Romania. A subsequent vision of Virgil signals the beginning of the most important relationship of Kitty's life---one in which previous lives will be oddly connected.
Paul Bailey's latest novel is a homage to Romania, past and present, and took him four years to write as he travelled around Romania and Eastern Europe, gathering stories and learning Romanian in the process. The result is an eccentric tale of eccentric characters determined to hold onto their integrity in the face of a ruthless world. Taking place primarily amongst the more Bohemian elements of English upper-class society, the story revolves around Kitty and Virgil, two people who fall passionately in love with each other after a chance meeting in a hospital. Kitty is a well-off, middle-aged editor, Virgil a Romanian exile working as a refuse collector, tortured by the plight of his country but, more potently, by the murderous acts committed by his father years before Virgil was even conceived.
This is as much a dark, anarchic comedy as a love story: Virgil, a gentle, intense, intellectual character with a madman's laugh and a puny body, is sent up along with Kitty's practicality and self-obsessed, privileged family. But Virgil is literally haunted by his past, both personal and cultural. Bailey is clearly at ease with Romania's fragmented, deeply-romantic culture and takes the reader on a fascinating journey through Virgil's poetic version of it. The novel is set against the collapse of Romania's Communist regime in the late eighties, an event which indirectly causes Virgil's quest for truth to end in tragedy. Kitty and Virgil can be exasperating, with its cast of florid caricatures and the overblown, self-satisfied idiom they communicate in, but above all, it is funny, intelligent and moving.
From Publishers Weekly
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.)
From Library Journal
When Kitty Crozier meets dissident Romanian poet and compulsive storyteller Virgil Florescu in the hospital, love blooms immediately. Their tale is played out against a backdrop of repression and suffering during the Ceausescu regime, Kitty's reunion with her much-married father, and the crumbling marriage of Kitty's twin, Daisy. Virgil's is the sensitive and charming voice in which most of the story is told, and it is the unspeakable family secret that he carries that propels much of the narrative. Fittingly, this memorable and moving novel ends with five poems from Virgil to Kitty, which encapsulate much of what he has told her. Very funny yet deeply tragic, this is a good bet for all libraries, especially where Bailey's prize-winning earlier novels (At the Jerusalem) are known.
-Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY
Paul Bailey's first novel, At the Jerusalem (1967), won three prizes including the Somerset Maugham Award. This was followed by Trespasses (1970) and A Distant Likeness (1973). In 1974 he received the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1977 the George Orwell Memorial Prize. Peter Smart's Confessions (1977) was shortlised for the Booker Prize. Old Soldiers appeared in 1980, and Gabriel's Lament (also shortlisted for the Booker Prize) in 1986. His other books include the memoir An Immaculate Mistake (1990), Sugar Cane (1993) and his latest novel, Kitty and Virgil (1998). He edited the Oxford Book of London, published in 1995.