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Enigma Variations

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3.81  ·  Rating details ·  2,706 ratings  ·  387 reviews
A passionate portrait of love’s contradictory power, in five illuminating stories.

Andre Aciman, who has been called “the most exciting new fiction writer of the twenty-first century” (New York Magazine), has written a novel in Enigma Variations that charts the life of Paul whose loves remain as consuming and covetous throughout adulthood as they were in adolescence. Whethe
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Hardcover, 266 pages
Published January 3rd 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Douglas Stevens My thoughts are that it covers much the same ground, but with a different (and more interesting) structure, and a decidedly different emphasis. And I…moreMy thoughts are that it covers much the same ground, but with a different (and more interesting) structure, and a decidedly different emphasis. And I don't find it is sad so much as ending with the narrator somewhat disappointed with his life, as is so often the case in real life. The structure is 5 somewhat longish short stories, each with its own sometimes surprising ending. My complaint is the ending of the book. For an individual short story, the ending of the last story is abrupt and clever, but the book has covered so many dimensions in the narrator's life, that the ending seems abrupt.
There is an interesting interview with the author about this book on Audible. It won't tell you much about the book unless you've at least started reading, but he reveals that the last story was written first, and he decided it needed at least a companion piece to make it work. Eventually he scrapped the companion and preceded it with four contrasting and somewhat disjointed stories. This, I think, is the problem with the ending.
Each of the stories has a different tone and feeling. The first is most like Call me by your name, and I think is the only one that could stand alone.
The other four stories need each other more, and they would probably work just as well without the first story. Maybe it serves to set up Paul's continuing sexual confusion, so I'm glad it's included.
It's good enough that I'll reread it soon to sort out how he mapped things out to lead to the final paragraph.(less)
Noah L The Enigma Variations is about the personal relationships that Elgar had. This book is about the personal relationships that the main character had.…moreThe Enigma Variations is about the personal relationships that Elgar had. This book is about the personal relationships that the main character had. There are a lot of other parallels if you want to use your imagination...
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3.81  · 
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 ·  2,706 ratings  ·  387 reviews


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Larry H
Jan 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
André Aciman's debut novel, Call Me by Your Name , utterly blew me away. I remember reading and re-reading paragraphs, mesmerized by his poetic language, and at times dissolving into tears from the emotional power of the story. While I could never seem to get into his second novel, and didn't know he wrote a third, when I stumbled on his latest novel, Enigma Variations , I thought I'd give his writing one more try.

This book is staggeringly beautiful. Powerfully emotional, haunting, frank in it
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Jaidee
Jan 20, 2017 rated it liked it
2.8 " reluctant, conflicted, disappointing" stars !!

The Most(est) Disappointing Read of 2017 Award

I really struggled with much of this book.

Mr. Aciman is an immensely talented writer but has great difficulty in distillation as well as writing a story that I care very much about. His writing is occasionally profound and moving but more often is overwrought, adolescent, saccharine and at times very dull and/or crass.

The protagonist is one of the most self-centred, miserable, selfish, sonofabitch
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Elyse Walters
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I forgot to mention one more thing when I wrote this this morning... PLEASE TAKE A LOOK AT LARRY'S review!!! Its wonderful-- and he was my inspiration for reading this!!!


"We make assumptions about how our lives are being charted without knowing that we are making these assumptions--which is the beauty of assumptions: they anchor us without the slightest clue that what we're doing is trusting that nothing changes. We believe that the street we live on will remain the same and bear it's name forev
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William2
My response is decidedly enigmatic. Like Call Me By Your Name, this is a book that cries out for rereading. No stars for now.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This book blew me away, in a way I was not expecting. It is told in five vignettes/stories, all which took unexpected turns. But these were not shocking story twists that would get old, but surprising moves by characters that ended up feeling more realistic than most writing. The characters get to be complicated. Sexuality is not black and white, nor is fidelity or even hope. There are statements about the longevity of love and connection, the realities of how some people only work in the short- ...more
Jessica Sullivan
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“I live for this. And if this is all there is, well, this is all there is.”

No one understands and communicates the myriad desires and agonies of the human heart quite like Andre Aciman. This series of five connected stories follows the life and loves of a bisexual man named Paul from adolescence to middle age.

There's the cabinetmaker, his first love; his tennis partner, with whom it takes him two years to make a move; the college sweetheart who he reunites with every four years but never for lo
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Kyle
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There was an emotional detachedness to the novel for me. Never once did I feel any sort of deep connection to the protagonist, which left me feeling listless the whole way through. I guess I expected more— something along the lines of the sweeping romanticism and longing of Aciman’s first novel— but expectations and reality didn’t coalesce.

Paul is a frustrating MC. His romantic contradictions and incessant whining threw me off completely. At first, I was bored with him. Part 1 was a grueling tru
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Jessi ♡
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
andre aciman made me angry, sad, uncomfortable, happy, emotional..... either way he always made me feel something. brilliant writing.
Sarah
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful novel that can be read like interconnected short stories on the meaning of love, identity, relationships, and longing. Aciman's prose is gorgeous and flows smoothly throughout the book, which makes it both easy to read yet something you want to savor. He cuts at the heart of human connection, what sparks relationships, sustains them, and makes them difficult. Overall, it's a book full of stories about what it means to be human and the desire to be surrounded by love and companionship ...more
Gerhard
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, gay-interest
I am a huge fan of Aciman, but this just did not work for me. The strongest section is the first; there is little to tie the five together, so this is really just a loosely bound collection of disparate novellas. Plus the fact that the central protagonist is so reprehensibly louche and dissolute that I had not the slightest ounce of empathy at his plight of being unable to find love. Moral of the story: a dick is a dick.
Lobstergirl
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction

The homosexual desire here was so much more convincing than the heterosexual desire, I was surprised to find the author is straight. Thus the last two chapters didn't work for me at all, although you need to get to the last page to find out something which (I suppose) is important. Aciman's writing is very nice but he has a tendency to overuse similes and create aphorisms that trickle on for a long paragraph.
Vivek Tejuja
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 s ...more
Casey
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
André Aciman attended our gay book club last night! As in, it was me, seven other readers, and Dr. Aciman in a small circle of chairs. I got my book signed. It was a treat.

Knowing my experience with Call Me By Your Name, I shouldn't have read this one last minute. Aciman's writing has a way of irritating me that requires distance before I have a complete opinion. Because his speciality is detailing the infinite vacillations of thought and desire. And it digs in so close to the damn truth! It's u
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Sara
Feb 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
This collection of stories/novel is an intimate and raw reflection on love and relationships through one man's eyes. Each separately titled portion is centered on a particular love interest. Aciman writes with such intimate acuity that the story is alternately passionate and painful. At times I was even bored by the unfiltered obsessions of the narrator, but drawn into his worldview, nonetheless. Aciman's/the main character's observations and revelations are pure and disarming, unsure and yet pl ...more
Sofia
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2017


I loved Aciman's words, his writing, but I got bored with the person he was writing about. For me the first story 'First Love' is 5 star material.

Like musical variations, Aciman uses this method of using the same theme in different ways to show us Paul and his playing musical chairs with his lovers. I realise that we see Paul in a rather one sided manner because even though we have different stories, different times, the subject matter is still his obsessive thoughts about new love. Paul appeare
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Doug
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
4.5 No one writes as elegantly and eloquently about love and desire in all its myriad forms as does Aciman - nor does anyone delineate the bisexual life with such (seeming) accuracy. If his latest novel does not quite reach the heights of his debut, Call Me By Your Name, that's only because his earlier effort was more or less perfect. This presents five linked stories about protagonist Paul/Paulo, from his days as a 12 year old suffering (a perhaps reciprocated) lust for his Italian village's eb ...more
Robledo Cabral
Feb 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
It is obvious to readers of Aciman’s debut novel, “Call me by your name”, that there are two themes which the author favors over everything else: love and memory. As he intertwines them in his literary broodings, he carefully places his focus upon how love evolves over time, or upon how our perceptions of it are tinged by our experiences. Do we love a person, or the thought of him/her? How do we construct coherence around our erratic love-and-loss episodes by musing over them in hindsight? Does ...more
Liina Bachmann
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
I would argue that it is a book about love, like many reviews and also the book cover state. Love is safety, finding comfort in the familiar. Most of those five stories are about the exact opposite. They are about the unknown. That tiny gap of time we all want to relive again and again - when you've met someone and you are driven insane by desire, can't function in a normal way and are driven by the novelty of this feeling. And Aciman knows that feeling well, very well in fact. His writing is so ...more
Lisa
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Aciman writes beautifully about desire and love and the fluidity of his enigmatic narrator's sexual identity. I don't remember if the musical piece Enigma Variations is referred to, but the title certainly fits these linked stories and their puzzling narrator.
alyssa zuber
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: made-me-cry, lgbt
readers, i cried
Mónica BQ
May 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fav-contemporary
I cried like it was me the book was talking about. And it took me a week to finish this because I kept having to pause after each set of stories and read something else.

I think that what got to me the most was how real this read. The entire book talks about love in its many shapes and forms and it all spoke to me. Enigma Variations is about the shared intimacies in relationships that are unique to each and yet so universal we can all relate to them. The flow of falling in and out of love and our
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michael trulli
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
The first chapter, in and of itself, is a beautiful story, and contains such delicious language of desire.

Ultimately, I was disappointed by most of the rest of it. The "conflicted bisexual" type of protagonist that seems to creep up all too often in explorations of sexuality feels like a safety net for the author and the reader.

After the first chapter, I find Paul, the protagonist/narrator, less and less relatable, or even believable. It's the same kind of fundamental disconnect that made John
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Brynn
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book because I loved Call Me By Your Name, and I was not disappointed. If Call Me By Your Name can be seen as a meditation on gay desire while avoiding the question of gay identity, Engima Variations is a corresponding meditation on bisexual desire without addressing bisexual identity. My favorite story/novella is the first due to its insights regarding the inability to name a desire that you have been given no language for, but all of the stories here are really versions of the ...more
Samantha
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
André Aciman has really spoiled me for other authors. I love his writing so much it's hard for me to enjoy anything else. He's such an astute and insightful author. Enigma Variations possesses all the great insights into motivations, relationships, thought processes, communication, overthinking, and agonies that I would expect from the author of Call Me by Your Name. This is a novel to savor, full of beautiful passages to reread. I agree with The New York Review of Books when they said that Acim ...more
Kathryne
Jan 15, 2017 rated it did not like it
Here's a depressing thought: women all of whom are heterosexual are left with the diminished pool of gay and or bi sexual men. Sappho really never rears her bisexual head but the door to the bird cage was left open and is ruling the roost.
M. Aciman crafts beautiful prose. New vocabulary words have been added.
I have little if any homophobia, but this back and forth business is a bit degoutant.
The novel, "call me by your name" was beautifully sappy and that stinging first love gay encounter.
Wh
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Read By RodKelly
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I want to read everything this man has written. The lyrical, poetic writing, filled with passion and sparkling intelligence, carries this story of one man's love affairs to a place of sublime beauty. Aciman wrings out so many emotions from his intensely intimate scenes that it's hard to read at times but the book is pure poetry. If you loved Call Me By Your Name, you'll love this even more.
Ylenia
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[ 3.75 stars ]

This was my first experience with Aciman and I quite liked it. This novels played with parallel universes, possible relationships and regret / remorse.

I found myself thinking how similar I was to Paul, obsessing over minor things while trying to understand another person. Paul had relationships with both men and women and the author managed to capture the passion in every one of them.

There were minor things I didn't enjoy about this novel, like the use of italian words and sentence
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Suanne Laqueur
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
A reviewer for the New Yorker calls Andre Aciman “An acute grammarian of desire.” Yes, he is.
Christine Spoors
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2018
I really enjoyed this book, but I'm definitely left feeling like I'm not quite clever enough for Aciman's writing. This book follows the life of Paul and all of the people he "loves" throughout his life. The way Aciman writes human emotion is just brilliant and the way he writes about love is so raw and often so relatable. I did unfortunately feel a little lost at times trying to keep track of the different people, but I still really enjoyed and would definitely recommend.

This book basically had
...more
Greg
Mar 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, reviewed
At the library checkout lane yesterday, I lifted this off the "new" (2017) shelves and added it to my book stack: an impulse read much like one would grab a nuttier, creamier chocolate candy at a food market checkout line. I had never heard of this book, nor of the author, and I read no book jacket blurbs but just dived right in. And read the whole thing this morning. The opening section entitled "First Love" is simply stupendous. Perfect. Gorgeous. Heartbreaking. Illuminating. But near the open ...more
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André Aciman was born in Alexandria, Egypt and is an American memoirist, essayist, novelist, and scholar of seventeenth-century literature. He has also written many essays and reviews on Marcel Proust. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The New Republic, Condé Nast Traveler as well as in many volumes of The Best American Ess ...more
“I belonged here the way I belonged to this planet and its people, but on one condition: alone, always alone.” 15 likes
“You know nothing about me. You see me. But you don't see me. Everyone else sees me. And yet no one has the foggiest notion of the gathering storm within me. It's my secret private little hell. I live with it, I sleep with it. I love that no one knows. I wish you knew. Sometimes I fear you do.” 14 likes
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