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
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The award-winning, bestselling French novel by Philippe Besson—“the French Brokeback Mountain
)—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.