cover image Enigma Variations

Enigma Variations

André Aciman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-14843-0

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.” (Jan.)