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Enigma Variations by André Aciman

51L-bsaKRML Title: Enigma Variations
Author: André Aciman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374148430
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember when I first read “Call Me by Your Name” by André Aciman and couldn’t stop crying. The book touched me in places I didn’t even know existed within me. The love of a teenager and an older man had me by the gut and for the longest time I couldn’t stop recommending it to people. Actually, I still do. Good books must always be read by all, even if it means just most people, but read it must be for sure. And for a while after I didn’t read anything by Aciman, till “Enigma Variations” was sent to me and I couldn’t help myself.

You cannot expect “Enigma Variations” to be like “Call Me by Your Name” but the writing is for sure similar (the same author of course) and that is what keeps the reader going. This novel charts the life of a man named Paul – whose loves remain as overpowering and passionate throughout his adulthood as they were during adolescence. With this book Aciman has sealed himself as being one of my favourite authors for sure. This book is that powerful and lyrical.

“Enigma Variations” is about Paul of course, but it is also about the people he falls in love with – both women and men. The setting could be Southern Italy, where as a boy he had a crush on his parents’ cabinetmaker (reminded me so much of Call Me by Your Name) or it could be a snowbound campus in New England where he falls hard for a girl and meets her over and over again, or it could also be his nefarious one-night stands with men who he will never meet, or New York’s sidewalks and cafés and more – the bottom line is that Aciman makes his characters yearn, gives them raw desire and emotions and leaves them to grapple with it. At no point did I get bored with the book. In fact, if anything I just didn’t want the book to end.

It felt like I was Paul and it was my life playing itself out in front of me. Aciman’s language casts a spell – through his words and situations he maps corners of desire that were most mysterious and out of reach. His characters are human. They make mistakes. They cry. They hurt. They also want and they also waver from the wanting. They are indecisive and it is alright for them to be this way. Paul takes account of all his fears, hopes, desires and still wants love in his life.

To me that is of paramount significance – after being such enigmas to our own selves, we finally discover what it is that we really want. Aciman plays on everyday emotions and scenes. At no point as a reader you will feel strongly disconnected from the plot. It is almost like he is chronicling what you might have gone through once a upon a time. Aciman understands emotions intricately and is not shy of putting them out like an open wound.

Eight White Nights by Andre Aciman

I had not read Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman before I started reading this one. I had heard a lot about the former title; hence this one piqued my interest and I can happily say that I was not disappointed by this one. Though a lot of reviewers on various sites have thrashed it beyond belief, I for one thought that it was penned well. It is a normal story (or is it?) about a man and a woman meeting at a New York party and how they meet over the next seven snowy nights (Dostoevskian? But of course) at the cinema.

She is very different from him – Clara is bold, whimsical, complicated, and tricky, can be mean, darts with her words and takes them back again. He on the other hand – a fan of Rohmer, over-observes, and over-thinks even though things could be simple enough and bare in front of him. He but obviously falls madly in love with him and the rest of the book is the waiting – the waiting for the words to be uttered. Over eight magically snowy nights between Christmas Eve and New Years, their romance plays out, like the day in that Ethan Hawke movie Before Sunset, only way longer.

The characters transform while reading the book, they find their moments and layers of intimacy within the stagnation of the prose (sometimes). Aciman no doubt has written some beautiful passages in the book. The characters come to life with their eccentricities but only for the writing. Yes there were times when the writing was getting tedious and I was almost about to give up reading the book, but Thank God I did not, because I loved it.

The pangs of love, the madness of a new relationship were evident throughout. The dizzying almost giddy steps of a new love were apparent and this will speak to almost everyone who reads this book. It is universal in its concept of love and madness. It is real life but after all. Doesn’t art imitate life at some point?

Eight White Nights; Aciman, Andre; Picador; $15.00