book review: Lie With Me by Philippe Besson



LIE WITH ME by Philippe Besson
translated by Molly Ringwald
Scribner, April 30, 2019


Lie With Me felt to me like a cross between Call Me By Your Name and Tin Man, but stronger and less heady than the former, and more bitter and perhaps more ambitious than the latter. Translated beautifully from the French by Molly Ringwald (yes, that Molly Ringwald), Lie With Me tells the story of a love affair between two teenage boys in 1984 rural France, narrated years later by Philippe with the kind of mature perception that only time can bring.

Nothing about this story is new; homophobia, class disparity, and shame all chart the course for this short novel, whose inherent tragedy makes itself apparent to the reader in an exchange between Philippe and Thomas, the latter of whom lays their dynamic out plainly the very first time they speak (“you will leave and we will stay”) – but it felt immeasurably fresh nonetheless. Probably most interesting is the sharp contrast between Philippe, whose candid narration reads as more of a confession than a monologue, and Thomas, who remains largely unknown except for the parts of himself that he allows Philippe to see. The character work is deceptively impressive, and Besson’s unrelenting attention to these characters’ similar and disparate vulnerabilities effectively cultivates an atmosphere of longing and regret and anxiety.

There’s something I can’t quite put my finger on that’s holding me back from the full 5 stars (maybe I should have read this in one sitting, I think that might be it), but this is a very strong 4.5, and one of the more accomplished novels that I’ve read recently. Ultimately it’s an intimate, erotic, sparse yet hard-hitting read that ends with one of the saddest sentences that I think I’ve ever read, and if that doesn’t make you want to rush out and read this 160 page book immediately, I don’t know what will.

Thank you to Netgalley and Scribner for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

You can pre-order a copy of Lie With Me here on Book Depository.

15 thoughts on “book review: Lie With Me by Philippe Besson

    • The one true way to sell a book to you 😂

      Fair warning though, it’s very much a Sad Gay Book, I’m not sure if you’re totally oversaturated with those or if you have room for a few more in your life but it’s the kind of thing that I want to recommend with the caveat that Besson isn’t exactly reinventing the queer fiction wheel.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Same here – if that was the only kind of queer fiction that I ever read I think I’d be driven mad by it, but at the same time… I’m not going to pretend that I don’t like sad books 😂

        Liked by 1 person

    • I had a feeling I may get that question once or twice if I didn’t mention it 😉I had no idea either, actually! I was just reading up on her – apparently she went to a French high school in LA and her first husband was French. And she’s now married to a writer and book editor, so, I guess it all makes sense!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I had heard that she’d written a book a few years ago, I think of short stories. But translation is such a different animal, I was so surprised! It sounds like she did a great job of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The amount of skill and uncompromising artistic vision involved in translation never fails to amaze me – I know you get it because you live in a predominantly non-English speaking country right now, but I feel like people who’ve never had that experience tend to think translation is more of a science than an art which it SO is not. It’s such an underrated skill!

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s such a good way to put it, people do tend to think it’s a science instead of an art, as if there’s just a simple formula to it. Like if Google translate can do it, surely it can’t be that complex. Maybe when you read a bad translation you realize how naive that is! I realized it even more myself when I started trying to translate a book, I think I told you…it is SO tricky and complicated! Good on Molly Ringwald for doing it so well.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes for sure! And my two favorite classics (Les Mis and the Iliad) are translated so I find it really fascinating to read passages from different translations and see how incredibly different the translators’ choices are, it’s almost like reading an entirely different book at times. I’m so very impressed by Molly Ringwald’s prose style!


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