From André Aciman, the author of Call Me by Your Name (now a major motion picture and the winner of the Oscar™ for Best Adapted Screenplay) comes “a sensory masterclass, absorbing, intelligent, unforgettable” (Times Literary Supplement).
André Aciman, hailed as a writer of “fiction at its most supremely interesting” (The New York Review of Books), has written a novel that charts the life of a man named Paul, whose loves remain as consuming and as covetous throughout his adulthood as they were in his adolescence. Whether the setting is southern Italy, where as a boy he has a crush on his parents’ cabinetmaker, or a snowbound campus in New England, where his enduring passion for a girl he’ll meet again and again over the years is punctuated by anonymous encounters with men; whether he’s on a tennis court in Central Park, or on a New York sidewalk in early spring, his attachments are ungraspable, transient, and forever underwritten by raw desire—not for just one person’s body but, inevitably, for someone else’s as well.
In Enigma Variations, Aciman maps the most inscrutable corners of passion, proving to be an unsparing reader of the human psyche and a master stylist. With language at once lyrical, bare-knuckled, and unabashedly candid, he casts a sensuous, shimmering light over each facet of desire to probe how we ache, want, and waver, and ultimately how we sometimes falter and let go of those who may want to offer only what we crave from them. Ahead of every step Paul takes, his hopes, denials, fears, and regrets are always ready to lay their traps. Yet the dream of love lingers. We may not always know what we want. We may remain enigmas to ourselves and to others. But sooner or later we discover who we’ve always known we were.
A breathless, sketched rendering of one man's life in love, Aciman's novel speaks earnestly not only of longing and lust, but also of more complicated emotions "the lightning and then silence" of unrequited attraction, and the mutable desire "neither to be on this side of the river nor on the other but on the space and transit in between." Paul's first crush, during his adolescence in Italy, is a handsome, talented local craftsman employed by his family; considering his passion for Giovanni "my first encounter with time," Paul returns to the island of San Giustiniano as a young man out of college, only to discover that the real object of Giovanni's interest was much closer than he supposed. Adult life in New York brings Paul no new clarity: suspecting his girlfriend, Maud, of cheating on him with a handsome visitor, he becomes drawn to the visitor himself. Finally entering into a relationship with fellow tennis player Manfred, he engages in periodic encounters with Chloe, a college friend with whom he shares a fraught but enduring connection: "we loved with every organ but the heart." Resorting occasionally to belabored and repetitive language, Aciman (Call Me by Your Name) nevertheless portrays Paul convincingly as a sensuous and self-aware figure, forever treading the border between melodrama and tragedy. Coming to terms with his sexuality, by midlife Paul has "grown to love serving two masters perhaps so as never truly to answer to either one."