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.
You know? I first read Aciman like three years ago when someone recommended me his novel Call Me By Your Name. One of the things that I found most striking about that book was the beautiful, gorgeous prose. It simply evoked emotions in the reader. You could almost see the places he was describing, smell the things the characters were smelling, touch, hear, feel. It read so painfully real, and… yep.. creepy. Because, yeah, at time it was creepy as hell. I think remember someone saying that his style was pretentious… And I admit I can see why someone would think that. It still just blew my mind. So, when I picked up this book, Enigma Variations, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. It was, I thought, difficult, that he wrote a book that would hit me just as hard as Call Me By Your Name Did. So, please, grab a beer, sit down, and watch me eat my words. All of them.
I picked up this book suspecting that this wasn’t going to be a romance. If Call Me By Your Name was anything to go by, I just knew there were going to be tears, a lot of frustration, and yelling at my poor husband to FIX THIS BECAUSE OH MY GOD. Husband just stares at me… unimpressed, as usual. Well, I ended up being surprised… Mainly because I didn’t even bother to read the blurb so I went into this book knowing three things: The name of the author, the title of the book, and that i really liked the contrast of the pink and gray on the cover. And so, there was that.
Enigma Variations is the story of Paul. His self discovery, his growth, his love, his lust, his passions, his hopes and dreams, his broken dreams. This is the story of a man and the people he loved, and those who touched his life one way or another. This is the story of friends who become lovers, and lovers who become friends. This is a story of walking out when it all gets too much and then regretting it every once in a while. Not too much, just… like a ghost of a feeling. This is about feeling and living and wondering and freaking out, and then finding courage to go for it. If you decide to go for it.
The book is broken in five sections – each one of them dedicated to a part of Paul’s life. The timeline of the story is linear, but the events seem broken in parts. We know not only one love of his, but several. Each chapter is dedicated to a man or a woman he loved at some point in his life. What I loved the most about this book was that I just kept being surprised. I loved the unexpected and the string of ‘holy shits’ that I whispered to myself. Just as there were things that I loved, there were things that I hated. I hated the feeling of helplessness, and that I felt broken for Paul and his lovers, and very frustrated. I hated that I hated the characters sometimes. I hated them because they were just too real. Their doubts, and their questions, and their decisions, it was all just… like life. They felt things and did things that I have felt myself and it was a painful reminder of them. All of this pained me. I think that this was because I am used to read about love in a way where I know it all will work out in the end… And this book had me wondering over and over if it would work out. It also had me wondering over and over if things not working out meant a failure? Does it? In the end, after a looooot of thinking, I decided that no. It’s not a failure. It’s just life, and how life goes sometimes.
Do I recommend this book? Yes. Just know that you will find a storm in it. Some things will be easy to read, some others won’t. Some things will read a little bit creepy (they do), some thing will read smooth and sweet.
Whether this book has a happy ending or not I think depends on how the reader sees it, but in my personal opinion, and in how I saw the book, I think this is a small collection of different endings, some good ones, some not so good.
In life we love, and sometimes fall in love and sometimes fall out of love, and some times we simply stay in love.. This is why I loved this book. I read about Paul and I remembered the people I have loved. Those who left me behind or who I left behind, but that I know, even now, that I loved them. Some were friends, some were lovers, some were something in between. There was a reality to this that I loved. I fucking dreaded it too, yes… LOL. But in the end, I loved it more than not.