“I remember the movement of his hips pressing against the pinball machine. This one sentence had me in its grip until the end. Two young men find each other, always fearing that life itself might be the villain standing in their way. A stunning and heart-gripping tale.” —André Aciman, author of Call Me by Your Name
A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice
The critically acclaimed, internationally beloved novel by Philippe Besson—“this year’s Call Me By Your Name” (Vulture) with raves in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Vanity Fair, Vogue, O, The Oprah Magazine, and Out—about an affair between two teenage boys in 1984 France, translated with subtle beauty and haunting lyricism by the iconic and internationally acclaimed actress and writer Molly Ringwald.
In this “sexy, pure, and radiant story” (Out), Philippe chances upon a young man outside a hotel in Bordeaux who bears a striking resemblance to his first love. What follows is a look back at the relationship he’s never forgotten, a hidden affair with a boy named Thomas during their last year of high school. Thomas is the son of a farmer; Philippe the son of a school principal. At school, they don’t acknowledge each other. But they steal time to meet in secret, carrying on a passionate, world-altering affair.
Despite the intensity of their attraction, from the beginning Thomas knows how it will end: “Because you will leave and we will stay,” he says. Philippe becomes a writer and travels the world, though as this “tender, sensuous novel” (The New York Times Book Review) shows, he never lets go of the relationship that shaped him, and every story he’s ever told.
“Beautifully translated by Ringwald” (NPR), this is “Philippe Besson’s book of a lifetime...an elegiac tale of first, hidden love” (The New Yorker).
Besson (In the Absence of Men) rehashes familiar tropes about secret teenage gay romance in this moving but unoriginal novel. Novelist Philippe, who shares many biographical details with the author, falls into a reverie about his first experience of romance when he spots a young man who looks just like his first lover from a couple decades earlier. Philippe, a high achieving 17-year-old student, frets about being gay in 1984 Barbezieux, France. Thomas Andrieu, a much cooler student and the son of a farmer, unexpectedly approaches Philippe with an invitation to lunch. Eating far away from the crowds, Thomas boldly offers a clandestine relationship. Philippe and Thomas pass notes with places and times for their meetings and pretend to not know each other otherwise. The adult Philippe relishes the memories in richly described erotic encounters. Their initially silent trysts blossom into conversation and love, but always remain secret. Thomas abruptly leaves town after school, leaving Philippe to wonder what happened until the chance encounter with the young doppelg nger provides insights and sets the stage for a tragic culmination. Despite the predictable plot, Besson's writing and Ringwald's smooth translation provide emotional impact.