Philippe Besson’s ‘Lie With Me’ is a tender tale of love and longing between two men in 1980s France
The novella has been translated from the French into English by actor and writer Molly Ringwald
Fans of André Aciman are waiting with bated breath for the release of Find Me, the sequel to his widely loved novel, Call Me By Your Name, at the end of this month. Until then, French writer Philippe Besson’s novella, Lie With Me, elegantly translated into English by actor and writer Molly Ringwald (and praised as “stunning and heart-gripping" by Aciman himself), should whet their appetite.
Set in a suburb outside Bordeaux in the 1980s, the story revolves around the narrator, also called Philippe, and his unlikely love affair with an older boy called Thomas Andrieu at his school. Philippe is a bookish 17-year-old, a schoolmaster’s son who can scarcely hope to attract the attention of the handsome Thomas, who lives on a farm nearby with his family. But it is the difference of class and circumstances that brings them together. “Why me?" asks Philippe, trying to fathom his appeal to the reticent older boy, who is the centre of female attention at school. “Because you will leave and we will stay," Thomas tells him.
Leave he does, and becomes a writer. Successful and urbane, Philippe divides his time between the US and France, while Thomas recedes from his life, presumably into his duty of taking care of the farm and his family. Unlike Philippe, he cannot bring himself to face the truth about who he is, especially in a decade when the shame attached to homosexuality was heightened by the stigma of contracting AIDS, which wiped out a generation of gay men. The dynamics of their relationship, based on irresistible attraction as well as the need to hide it from the world, is captured in the pun on “lie" in the title.
Years later, when Philippe is in Bordeaux to promote his latest book, the ghost of Thomas surfaces again: in the form of a young man who looks exactly like his long-lost lover. Second chances in life, however, often come with painful caveats. As Philippe reckons with the past, he tries to imagine the life Thomas has lived in the years since they last saw each other. He cannot, however, foresee the final act in their relationship.
The line between real life and fiction keeps getting blurred in Besson’s pseudo-autobiographical framing of the story. The device lends a tragic urgency to the narrative and keeps the reader absorbed in this tender and intense tale.