Lie With Me by Philippe Besson – Book review

I read Lie With Me on NYE, coming in at 148 pages it’s a perfect afternoon read. And oh my god, WHAT a read – I was addicted, it packs such an emotional punch! Written by French author Philippe Besson and translated into English by Molly Ringwald (yes, the same person you’re thinking of from The Breakfast Club), Lie With Me is such a exquisite book.

Opening sentence: One day – I can say precisely when, I know the date – I find myself in the bar of a hotel lobby in a provincial city, sitting in an armchair across from a journalist, a low round table between us, being interviewed for my latest novel, which recently came out.

The trouble with lies…

The first part of the story is set in 1984 in a small French village, Barbezieux, in South-West France, when being openly gay wasn’t an option. This is the backdrop for the story: Lie With Me truly captures the nuances and tenderness of complex feelings. In this case it’s our 17 year old unnamed narrator, coming to terms with both puberty and falling love with his school-mate, Thomas.

Our narrator explores his childhood, where he knew he was gay from a young age, knew he was different from others, knew he should keep his feelings to himself. His world is turned upside down when Thomas asks to secretly meet him. They start a relationship that impacts them both immensely.

This passion that can’t be talked about, that has to be concealed, gives way to the terrible question: if it isn’t talked about, how can one know that it really exists?

Regrets and repression are explored so well here. A chance meeting with Thomas’s son years after the two men part ways brings feelings flooding back for our now successful author narrator and makes him reflect on his seminal relationship.

Blurring the boundaries

Lie With Me is fiction but potentially a memoir too as it is based in the village – Barbezieux – where Philippe Besson is from and dedicated to Thomas Andrieu, the name of the aforementioned character.

There is a point in the book where the narrator says he makes up so many stories he starts to believe them and the lines between fiction and reality can seem blurred. Lie With Me also references historical events that work to give it the feel of a memoir, such as the AIDS endemic in the 80s and personal film references. All this adds a super intriguing layer.

For all its heartbreak and angst, it was a beautiful read. In a way that only a story that gives you a glimpse into the human soul can be. And the turn of phrase used throughout is so delicious too, example:

We cross paths in a hallway darkened by the winter rain, the kind of rain that invites the night into the day.

Lie With Me is absolutely going on my re-read list, I loved this book. I had to kick off 2023 with this review; such a powerful, emotive book. I’m setting the tone for the rest of my year’s reading!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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