by Christopher Ruthe
A love story in a mere 148 pages*? The title, Lie With Me, carries with it both the meaning of the sensual and the sexual. And what is a lie vs truth, in any writing, and ultimately what is truth other than what is sensed? Very cleverly the book is dedicated:
“In memory of Thomas Andrieu (1966-2016). He is the lover. Yet it is called a novel.
On one level it tells the story of adolescent love between two boys, from the perspective of the writer. Who has become a successful author. They shared a love that, to use Oscar Wilde’s endearing phrase “Dared not speak its name”. The setting is provincial France of the 1980’s. The two boys come from stable homes, the writer has a very happy childhood, though he is an outsider in the sense he prefers reading to sport, studying, to playing around honouring his parents.
Besson writes sparely, but his prose is evocative. You feel every moment of anxiety, of anticipation — nascent love about to burst out. A brief moment of requited love is the kernel around which Besson weaves a most moving story of life’s fates, mere chance, vicissitudes, death — as mere incident, death as shadow, death by one’s own choice.
Other critics have described the book thus: “This gorgeous, aching novel captures all of the fear and freedom of young desire. I dare you to read it without crying” (C. Bollen)”. At first erotic and joyous, ultimately elegiac and haunting, Lie With Me is a deceptively slender book as big as life itself” (Rumaan Alam).
* This cadenza, in Jazz terms, this riff on the meaning of what love meant to the main protagonist gives a hint of the levels of complexity the author creates in this extraordinary story. “I wrote the word: love. I did consider using another one. It’s a curious notion, love: difficult to identify and define. There are so many degrees and variations. I could have contented myself with saying that I was smitten (and it is true that Thomas knew how to make me weaken), or infatuated (he could conquer, flatter, even bewitch like no one else), or obsessed (he often provoked a mixture of bewilderment and excitement, turning everything upside down), or seduced (once he caught me in his net there was no escaping), or even blinded (anything that embarrassed me, I pushed to the side, minimizing his defects, putting his good qualities on a pedestal, or disturbed (no longer was I ever quite myself), which would have had less positive connotations. I could have explained it away as mere affection, having a “crush”, an explanation vague enough to mean anything. But those would just have been words. The truth, the brutal truth, was that I was in love. Enough to use the right word.” (P.86)