I’m in this state of one-way desire.
I feel this desire swarming in my belly and running up my spine. But I have to constantly contain and compress it so that it doesn’t betray me in front of others. Because I’ve already understood that desire is visible.
― Philippe Besson, Lie With Me
I’m guessing that there was probably no bolt of lightning, just a warm night full of wine and fluttering moths and the feeling that nothing is really important and everything is possible.
― Philippe Besson, Lie With Me
It is 1984 in a small town in rural France. Seventeen-year old Philippe yearns for Thomas, the popular yet quiet boy at his school. But he does not dare approach him. He knows that people think he is girlish and he doesn’t want to give them more ammunition to bully him. He is a brilliant student, preferring the company of books and a small handful of close friends. He is shocked when Thomas says he’s been watching him and invites him to a cafe on the other side of town, one where neither one of them will be recognized. There, Thomas explains that he has been watching Philippe and that, if they are to do anything, it must be in complete secrecy. Not sure what Thomas means, Philippe is too overwhelmed by hormones and curiosity to push for more information. That afternoon, they begin an affair that haunts Philippe for the rest of his life.
This story is told in flashbacks, as Philippe walks us through his time with Thomas, dropping hints along the way of other events that shaped his transition to adulthood. He mentions in passing other relationships he had over the years, as he grew in fame as a successful French author. He emphasizes the terror of AIDs, of losing so many friends in the decades that followed. He lives openly as a gay man, but can never begrudge Thomas for the persistent ache that plagues him years after they separate.
If I had to choose an image to represent this book, it would be a gif of a heart breaking in half over and over and over again. And that is the heart of the reader. The story goes the way that these stories of long lost love tend to go, but there are still surprises along the way. The language is breathtakingly beautiful. Each page is drenched in so much longing and melancholy but it does not weigh you down. The rollercoaster of elation and fear is so palpable, the stakes sound so much higher than they are. And that is the essence of first love. Everything is so dramatic. Every look, every sigh holds so many perceived meanings; the mutual self-consciousness and inadvertent cruelty of every word spoken.
This story gave me the same feeling as putting on a favorite sad song on repeat and allowing the feelings to swirl around me.
I want to give this book five stars for the imagery and feelings the story evokes. However, the characters’ behavior and the string of bizarre coincidences is too much for me to completely ignore.
One very interesting thing to note is that this was translated by Molly Ringwald. Yes, THAT Molly Ringwald. I knew she had authored a couple of books but I had no idea she was a French translator as well.
Get this book, put on your favorite songs from when you were a dramatic and heartbroken teen, curl up in your favorite hoodie or sweater, and let all the feelings wash over you.