Lie With Me

A Novel

Translated by Molly Ringwald
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About The Book

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).

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Lie With Me includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

The award-winning, bestselling French novel by Philippe Besson—“the French Brokeback Mountain” (Elle)—tells the story of an affair between two teenage boys in 1984 France, translated with subtle beauty and haunting lyricism by the iconic and internationally acclaimed actress/writer Molly Ringwald.

Just outside a hotel in Bordeaux, Philippe chances upon a young man 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. Without acknowledging they know each other in the halls, they steal time to meet in secret, carrying on a passionate, world-altering affair.

Dazzlingly rendered in English by Ringwald in her first-ever translation, Besson’s powerfully moving coming-of-age story captures the eroticism and tenderness of first love—and the heartbreaking passage of time.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. At the beginning of the novel, Philippe, the narrator, reflects on his love of inventing stories about strangers’ lives. How does this set your expectations?

2. Young Philippe excels academically but is somewhat of a loner socially. How does Besson explore Philippe’s status in his hometown?

3. Philippe says that he often writes about the “unexpected juxtapositions that shift the course of a life” in his adult years. How did such a moment come to pass with Thomas?

4. Philippe fears Thomas’s abandonment so intensely it is as if he is a child again. What memory does he use to conjure this fear?

5. There are many things Philippe never says to Thomas about his feelings, fears, and desires—but they do communicate through songs, films, and novels. How do the stories they discuss together build a sense of time and place in the novel?

6. Thomas and Philippe’s love affair takes place before the peak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. How does the adult narrator’s awareness of this impending tragedy deepen the novel’s note of elegy?

7. Thomas believes Philippe is “a boy of books, from somewhere else,” who will inevitably leave their small town. Is this the most important difference between the two of them? What are some other significant differences?

8. How does Besson distinguish the narrator’s story from his own life? What effect does naming the character after himself have on your reading of the novel?

9. Philippe feels devastatingly jealous when he watches a female classmate flirt with Thomas at a party. How does he manage this jealousy? Can you think of other scenes from novels or films where two lovers are separated by jealousy and misunderstanding?

10. Philippe takes a photograph of Thomas just after they get the results of their final exams. Why does he believe Thomas lets him take this picture? Could there be an alternate explanation?

11. Philippe writes that, after he learns that Thomas will stay in Spain, he “erase[s]” him. What does he mean by this? Is this true, or even possible?

12. Why does Philippe have such a strong reaction when he sees “this image that cannot exist”—Thomas’s son—in 2007?

13. After speaking to Thomas’s son, why doesn’t Philippe call Thomas? What reasons does he give for hesitating?

14. Philippe wonders what Thomas was thinking at the moment of his marriage, and much later, when he makes another major life change. Is this just another example of Philippe’s “telling stories,” or does this imagining speak to something more? In the end, after decades, did he really know Thomas?

15. Thomas’s letter makes a dramatic prediction about their futures. Did it come true? If so, why do you think that is?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. A line from Marguerite Duras’s The Lover is used as one of the epigraphs for Lie With Me. Chronicling an affair between a teenage French girl and an older Chinese man, The Lover is an autobiographical novel first published in English in 1984. Read The Lover, and discuss its similarities with and differences from Lie With Me.

2. Read Besson’s other works that have been translated into English, such as In the Absence of Men or His Brother, or Ringwald’s When It Happens to You.

3. Watch Son frère, a French movie based on Besson’s His Brother.

About The Author

Photograph by Maxime Reychman

Philippe Besson is an author, screenwriter, and playwright. His first novel, In the Absence of Men, was awarded the Emmanuel-Roblès Prize in 2001, and he is also the author of, among others, Late Autumn (Grand Prize RTL-Lire), A Boy from Italy, and The Atlantic House. In 2017 he published Lie With Me, a #1 French bestseller that won the the Maisons de la Presse Prize, and A Character from a Novel, an intimate portrait of Emmanuel Macron during his presidential campaign. His novels have been translated into twenty different languages.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (April 7, 2020)
  • Length: 160 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501197888

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Raves and Reviews

"[A] study in intimacy ... the novel captures the full tragedy of the closet ... Equal parts Andre Aciman and Marguerite Duras."
—Ayten Tartici, The New York Times Book Review

"Philippe Besson's book of a lifetime ... An elegiac tale of first, hidden love between two teen-age boys who have no chance of a shared future, Lie With Me sold more than a hundred thousand copies in France, where it won several prizes and is being made into a movie. Elle deemed it “the French Brokeback Mountain" ... The book reads like a photograph, faded but composed: the bac, linden trees, a green Simca 1100, Lino Ventura. We can see even if we don’t know. Call it a memoir of a memory."
—Lauren Collins, The New Yorker

"This Year’s Call Me by Your Name Is French: More Meta But Just As Hot ... Lie With Me is the story of a successful (unnamed) French novelist ... who catches a glimpse of what he thinks is a past lover in a hotel. Triggered by the sighting, he traces the story of his secret high-school affair with that lover: It was brief in tenure but formed the mold into which he has since tried to press every other romantic relationship."
—Hillary Kelly, Vulture

Lie with Me succeeds as a novel because of Besson's graceful writing, beautifully translated by Ringwald. Besson is a gifted stylist, and he infuses Philippe's story with the right notes of sadness and longing. . . . perfectly captures what it's like to be young and in love ... [a] lovely novel.”
—Michael Schaub, NPR.org

"French author Philippe Besson's international best seller Lie With Me is now available Stateside thanks to actor, author, and erstwhile Parisian Molly Ringwald's fluid translation. Told in three parts, the slender novel recounts a clandestine romance between two teenage boys in 1984 ... More than 20 years after his last encounter with Thomas, Philippe runs into his former lover's doppelganger, and a chance discovery shatters the gentle reverie of the past. Small ripples can make the fiercest waves."
Lauren Mechling, Vogue

"Introspective and evocative, Lie With Me is an absorbing story about passionate love thwarted by class differences and homophobia. The slim novel takes on a great deal in a short amount of space and establishes Molly Ringwald as a skilled translator."
—Michael Kaler, Lambda Literary

"People call Lie With Me, a 1984 teenage romance novella, the French Brokeback Mountain. A sexy, pure, and radiant story, this book has been republished for US readers, and translated by Molly Ringwald. Yes, that Molly Ringwald! This is a great gift book, a quick plane-read, and honestly, better than Brokeback Mountain. Don’t miss it!"
Fran Tirado, Out.com, 8 Queer Books to Read in April

"A French bestseller likened to Call Me By Your Name and Brokeback Mountain, the novel marks the first English translation by the actress and writer Ms. Ringwald, a longtime Francophile."
Rebecca Makkai, Wall Street Journal, The 10 Books You’ll Want to Read This Spring

"Molly Ringwald translated this French Call Me By Your Name-esque novel about two teenagers in 1984 Bordeaux as they fall in love in the shadows, leaving one of them to reflect on the relationship many years later."
OprahMag.com, 30 of the Best LGBTQ Books in 2019

Lie with Me succeeds as a novel because of Besson‘s graceful writing, beautifully translated by Ringwald.”
Easton Caller

"It's as immediately involving and heart-breaking a tale of gay first love as I can recall... direct and devastating."
The Bay Area Reporter

"There's much book-to-filmstar appeal in this moving, well-plotted tale: Elle dubbed it "the French Brokeback Mountain"; there's something of Call Me by Your Name's Elio in Philippe, who lives in the books he reads and writes; and actress and writer Ringwald ably translates."
Booklist

"Moving ... Besson’s writing and Ringwald’s smooth translation provide emotional impact."
Publishers Weekly

“Besson is a thoughtful writer who can strike home with vivid imagery . . . . [and] deftly translated [by Ringwald].”
Kirkus

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

“This is a gorgeous fever dream of a book. Ringwald's translation does elegant justice to Besson’s balance of beauty and despair, and to his interrogations of memory and longing. Lie With Me positively glows in the dark.”
—Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers

"Lie With Me is an exquisite whisper that lingers long after you've finished reading it."
—Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend

“In spare yet evocative prose, elegantly translated by Molly Ringwald, Philippe Besson relates the erotic awakening of two adolescent boys in a small French town in the 1980s. Lie With Me captures their world with the grainy poignancy of an old high school yearbook, while movingly  conveying the quintessential human dramas of longing, love, and letting go.”
—Caroline Weber, author of Proust's Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-de-siècle Paris

“The uncanny thrill of Philippe Besson’s Lie With Me rises up from Molly Ringwald’s elegant translation with the intensity of meeting a stranger on a train who tells you a single unforgettable story and then leaves. And his voice haunts me still.”
—Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel and The Queen of the Night

"A timeless love story, written with the unmistakable ache of truth. Molly Ringwald's translation is as clear and beautiful as the story it depicts. You'll read it in a night, but its exquisite heartbreak will linger."
—David Ebershoff, author of The Danish Girl and The 19th Wife

“At first erotic and joyous, ultimately elegiac and haunting, Lie With Me is a deceptively slender book as big as life itself.”
—Rumaan Alam, the author of That Kind of Mother and Rich and Pretty

“This gorgeous, aching novel captures all of the fear and freedom of young desire. Besson’s sharp, compressed prose gets right to the heart of what it means to have to fall in love in secret. Thanks to Ringwald’s pitch-perfect translation, this affecting and sexy elegy may well be the best gay love story in contemporary fiction. I dare you to read it without crying.”
—Christopher Bollen, author of Orient and The Destroyers

“I read this novel from start to finish without stopping, steadily undone by its honesty, humility and grace. It’s the rare kind of story that reminds you—deep in a place you’ve almost forgotten—what a miracle it is, and what a heartbreak, to fall in love even once.”
—Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror

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