Recent Reads Lie With Me by Philippe Besson and The Large Door by Jonathan Gibbs

Another round-up post with some brief thoughts on a couple of recent(ish) reads, both recommended.

Lie With Me by Philippe Besson (2017, tr. Molly Ringwald, 2019)

Just the kind of short, beautifully-written novella I tend to love, especially in translation.

In brief, the book starts with a prologue in which the narrator – Philippe, a successful yet sensitive writer – catches sight of a young man who reminds him strongly of his first love, an attractive, charismatic young boy named Thomas. This chance encounter prompts Philippe to reflect on his adolescence and the passionate, fleeting relationship he experienced with his more popular classmate, Thomas.

This covert, mind-expanding liaison between the two boys sparks an awakening in Philippe, both sexually and emotionally. A quiet, apprehensive boy at heart, Philippe relaxes into his skin, becoming more at ease with himself and his relationships with others. However, alongside the intimacy and feverish pleasure of first love comes the loneliness and anguish of the virtually inevitable separation.

I discover that absence has a consistency, like the dark water of a river, like oil, some kind of sticky dirty liquid that you can struggle and perhaps drown in. It has a thickness like night, an indefinite space with no landmarks, nothing to bang against, where you search for a light, some small glimmer, something to hang on to and guide you. But absence is, first and foremost, silence. A vast, enveloping silence that weighs you down and puts you in a state where any unforeseeable, unidentifiable sound can make you jump. (p. 37)

Lie With Me is a tender, deeply moving book about the pain and passion of illicit love, the heartbreak that accompanies absence, and the difficulties of coming to terms with who we are. It is imbued with a strong sense of yearning for halcyon times; Besson’s prose is sublime.

The Large Door by Jonathan Gibbs (2019)

A smart, playful novel which explores a number of interesting themes with the lightest of touches.

As the novel opens, Jenny Thursley, a troubled linguistics lecturer in her early forties, is returning to Europe for a conference in Amsterdam, an event dedicated to the life and work of her former mentor, Leonard Peters. During the trip, Jenny must revisit and come to terms with certain events from her past, most notably how best to honour Leonard given their previous history – Leonard once made a clumsy pass at Jenny, an incident that was brushed under the carpet at the time and never spoken of again. Jenny’s task is made all the more challenging by the news that Leonard is dying from cancer – a revelation that everyone else seems to have known about long before Jenny.

The situation is further complicated by the presence of Jenny’s former lover, Frankie, at the conference. If truth be told, Jenny still holds a candle for Frankie, now fifty-three and a successful, sophisticated academic herself.

Frankie Gerrity was her dearest friend, still; her lover and partner for three-and-a-half crucial, bitter years – years that has expanded in the rear-view mirror until they seemed now to hold within them most of her significant life, especially now that they existed on the far side of another all-consuming relationship: the marriage to a man that had seemed to her at the time a definitive turning-over of her life, a gleeful flight across a burning bridge. She didn’t think that now. But equally she didn’t know how to think herself back to the person she had been before. (pp. 42–43)

Gibbs perfectly captures the sense of feeling unmoored, ‘turning hopelessly in the current’ in the hope of finding something stable to hold on to. The novel explores the messy business of relationships, connections and communications in a lively, intelligent way. There is a clever play on the subjunctive as Jenny agonises over her half-written speech for the conference and wonders whether it will ever be completed at all.

The need to face up to our mortality is another theme, as is our relationship with art and creativity. There is a captivating scene in the middle of the book where Jenny is taken to see a Dutch painting, and the realisation she experiences is beautifully observed.

All in all, this is a very erudite novel – smart, witty and elegantly conveyed. I liked it a lot.

Lie With Me is published by Penguin Books, The Large Door by Boiler House Press; my thanks to the publishers/authors for kindly providing review copies.

34 thoughts on “Recent Reads Lie With Me by Philippe Besson and The Large Door by Jonathan Gibbs

  1. gertloveday

    New names to me and both interesting. Have you read Randall the first book by Jonathan Gibbs set in the world of art? And do you think the translator of the Besson is THE Molly Ringwald?

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      No, I haven’t read Randall, although I do recall seeing some very positive reviews when it came out. One for the future, perhaps. (As a slight aside, have you seen Ruben Ostlund’s film, The Square, also set in the art world? If not, I would definitely recommend it if you’re in the mood for something sharp and satirical.) And yes, the translator of the Besson is THE Molly Ringwald of Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club fame. Her first translation by all accounts, and very good it is too!

  2. heavenali

    Lie with me sounds particularly lovely Jacqui. That quote is beautiful and a lovely example of the author’s writing. Both novels sound interesting though, you’re always introducing me to new writers!

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I think you’d like Lie With Me very much. It’s a book with a strong emotional through-line, and Besson’s writing is beautifully judged. Plus there’s a timeless quality to the narrative, almost as if it could have been written 20 or 30 years ago.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I think you’ll enjoy it, madame b. It’s been likened by some to Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name, which I can understand. That said, the two boys are very close in terms of age here, unlike CMBYN where Oliver is somewhat older and more mature than Elio.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      The Besson in particular feels right up your street. It’s so beautifully written. Hopefully the one you have at home will be in a similar style…

  3. Radz Pandit

    I have both the books so really looking forward to them, the Besson particularly appeals. Boiler House Press seem to have released some interesting books. I read the short story collection called Animalia Paradoxa last year and it was quite good!

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, that’s interesting to hear about your experience with Boiler House Press. I hadn’t come across them before (well, not until Jonathan’s book came out last year). Animalia Paradoxa – what intriguing title, one that conjures up all sorts of ideas and images! Thanks for the tip.

  4. Pingback: A-Z Index of Book Reviews (listed by author) | JacquiWine's Journal

  5. Emma

    Hi Jacqui,

    I’ve read it now and I wondered if you still have the book on your shelf. I’m interested in how the translator translated the last paragraph of the first chapter.

    In French it starts with:
    “A la rentrée de septembre, je quitte Barbezieux. Je deviens pensionnaire au lycée Michel-de-Montaigne à Bordeaux. J’intègre une prépa HEC. Je débute une nouvelle vie. Celle qu’on a choisie pour moi. …”


    Btw : it was made into a film.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Hi Emma, I’m afraid I don’t have a copy of the book any more…sorry. Thanks for mentioning the film. I don’t think I was aware of that but will look it up!

  6. Pingback: Lie With Me by Philippe Besson – raw sensitivity | Book Around the Corner

Leave a comment or reply - I'd love to hear your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.