Lie With Me Review
An intimate story full of longing, ache, and regret, about two men who fall in love but can’t be together. The love story goes on to change the rest of their lives and colour their worlds indefinitely, but they took such different paths - and it breaks your heart to know that it could have ended differently if one of them had just picked up the fucking phone.
Our story opens with Philippe, a famous writer, being interviewed by a journalist about his latest book. Across the hotel, he sees a handsome man walk by who reminds him of someone from his past and he drops everything, leaves the interview, and runs after him into the street.
You’ll find out later that it’s not him, but you’re transported straight into 1984 when Philippe is in high schooler. Originally written in French and translated to English by Molly Ringwald, the prose is delicate, descriptive, and emotive. Our narrator, who is in his fifties at the time of writing, remembers being seventeen years old and not yet knowing that he won’t always be seventeen years old - that feeling of invincibility remembered with a touch of l’esprit de l'escalier (if only I’d thought to say that then). The phrase "youth is wasted on the young" comes to mind, how we would have lived our lives differently had we only known how things would unfold. He describes the names in his phone book being struck off, one by one, as the people he loves succumbed to AIDS. He remembers how they knew about AIDS in 1984 but didn’t consider it a threat, because at that age you’re indestructible, untouchable. And he remembers Thomas Andrieu.
Our tall, dark, and handsome stranger, Thomas, is eighteen years old. He’s aloof. Good looking. Philippe spends a lot of his time at school watching Thomas. Thomas is quiet and reserved, yet well-liked (oh, to be a handsome, skinny teenager in the 80s) and Philippe is an effeminate nerd who is bullied for being gay. He doesn’t think Philippe has noticed him, or even knows who he is, until one day they end up alone in a room together and Thomas invites him out for lunch.
Here starts a life-altering love affair that you know is doomed from the start, but you hope so badly for it to be different. This is not a romance story, for this affair takes place in desperate secrecy, and your heart hurts for all the things that they miss out on (perhaps because so many of us have known this feeling at one time or another). The relationship is intimate in more ways than one; from ripping each other’s clothes off to sharing deep conversations and secrets, but Thomas always keeps our narrator at an arm’s length. Intimate, but wary of affection. Thomas is always in control, in the way that a person is in control of the water by only ever dipping a toe in.
This is a story of two people who ended up on different paths but were irrevocably changed by each other. Philippe’s work as a writer is undeniably influenced by his time with Thomas, which is pointed out later in the book - every one of his stories is really about him. But Philippe goes on to live his life as an openly gay man, while Thomas goes on to become a husband and father, stifling his true self because he feels there is no other option for him.
The hardest part to swallow from this whole book was that the ending could have been so different - twenty years after their teenaged goodbye, they have the opportunity to speak again but neither of them calls. They go the rest of their lives with this exquisitely painful love resting on their backs. But it makes sense as a queer book for there to not be a happy ending. I don’t know if it’s because longing is what we’re used to or if we actually like it, but this bittersweet story is deliciously raw, like tonguing an ulcer. It hurts but it feels so good at the same time.
What a beautifully moving book that will stay with you for weeks after you read the final page.
Find your copy of Lie With Me here