Philippe looks up from his coffee in a Bordeaux hotel and his gaze is drawn to a person he is certain is Thomas, his first love and a loop from his past left painfully unlinked all these years. Translated from its original French, Lie With Me is the story of one man’s first love and the trajectory of his life since the two met.
Romantic, poetic, and fleeting, Lie with Me by Philippe Besson is such a lovely book. I found myself intrigued by this translation partially because of its translator: Molly Ringwald, whom we all know from Sixteen Candles and other iconic movies. There are a lot of politics in literary translation and I am no expert, but one thing I do know is that translators often have to fight to be listed on the cover of a book and, in general, are underappreciated and underpaid. So, when this ARC came to me in the mail with a famous name in massive letters on the front as translator, I took note. I am also a bit of a literary Francophile and, intrigued by the Call Me By Your Name comparisons, I decided to pick it up.
Upon finishing the book, I have to admit I find the Call Me By Your Name comparison’s to be a bit surface-level and mostly inaccurate. Stylistically, I understand the comparisons, and of course, the obvious, two gay men and their story as the main focus. However, one of the cornerstone’s of Aciman’s book is that Elio and Oliver are able to have a free and open relationship with one another in the 80s because of their isolation from the world. Living in a small Italian town, living mostly among nature and with Elio’s thoughtful and open parents, the two are able to fall in love away from the judgement and cultural ideas of the world. The book is about freedom. Lie With Me, on the other hand, takes place in a high school setting in a town with clear prejudice against gay relationships and it’s actually more about secrecy and the effects of hiding one’s true self. The two main characters, unlike Oliver and Elio, aren’t able to experience what life might be like if they were together. It was never an option and I think that distinction is very important here.
As I said, much of the story builds on the secrecy of Thomas and Philippe’s relationship. The two can never speak in public, meet secretly in locker rooms and woodsheds to be together, and their relationship, as Philippe often considers, might as well not exist outside the two of them. As Philippe ages, he opts to be outspoken about his sexuality and speaks about it often in interviews once he becomes a well-known novelist. Thomas, on the other hand, represents the other path taken by gay men by choosing a life of secrecy and facade. I found Philippe’s perspective of Thomas as a careful, hidden-away person and the stark contrast between the two character’s lives to be so insightful and emotional.
The writing style of this book really drew me into the book. It is beautifully written and beautifully translated. The themes are exploratory and the approach is poetic. I underlined lines and wrote them down elsewhere because many of them were quite prophetic to me. Interestingly, as I did find the story so beautiful, I don’t know if this book will leave a lasting impression for me. Time will tell, but both the quiet, lighthanded style of writing and also the nearly-novella length of the story might prevent it from truly penetrating in the long-term.
Overall? A beautifully written translation about hardship, first love, and the pain and shame of hiding oneself.
PUBLICATION DETAILS: Scribner; April 30, 2019; 978-1501197871 ; 160 pp; Fiction -> LGBTQ / Coming of Age
Thank you to Scribner for gifting me a copy of this book! All thoughts are my own. :)