Paul Bailey (born Peter Harry) Biography
(1937– ), (born Peter Harry), At the Jerusalem, Trespasses, A Distant Likeness, Peter Smart's Confessions
British novelist and critic, born in London, and trained as an actor. He earned critical recognition for his first novel, At the Jerusalem (1967), a poignant and lively study of old people in a private institution. Trespasses (1970) followed, in which Bailey explores the disintegration of the persona under the pressures exerted by social conventions. Formally, Trespasses is mimetic of the fractured condition that is its theme, consisting of fragments which eventually coalesce. A Distant Likeness (1973) continues this fictive method in its presentation of a criminal sleuth haunted by the horrors and pathos of the cases he deals with. In Peter Smart's Confessions (1977) there is a greater autobiographical element with the protagonist sharing his experience of the theatre; it is both bold and sensitive about homosexuality. Old Soldiers (1980) gives the subject of the split personality a more fully realized social context. Gabriel's Lament (1986) is a large-scale novel, narrated in both the first and the third person, and presents the central character's coming to terms with tragic truth. Sugar Cane (1993) is narrated by a female doctor in a genito-urinary clinic who develops a special interest in a young black patient; the narrative uncovers a background of young rent-boys and the shocking realities of AIDS. Bailey's work is often described as Dickensian, but this is to miss the essentially post-modernist nature of his art, his literary absorption in twentieth-century writers such as I. B. Singer, Flannery O'Connor, and the Italian Giorgio Bassani, all of whom he admired for their ability to set characters in cultures under threat. A lively humour pervades his autobiography, An Immaculate Mistake (1990), not least where his own honestly presented sexuality is concerned. Bailey is also the editor of The Oxford Book of London (1991).
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