Enigma Variations review: Andre Aciman’s exploration of attraction and desire

Enigma Variations
Andre Aciman
​Faber & Faber, $27.99

Like Aciman's previous book, Call Me By Your Name, this novel is an exploration of the nature of attraction and desire. It follows the structure of the Elgar composition from which it takes its title, in which Elgar used variations on a musical theme to illustrate or suggest the personalities of various people who were close to him. The result is a discontinuous and episodic narrative of obsessive love and lust, in which the narrator Paul, whom I hesitate to call a hero, recounts his passion for five of the loves of his life. It probably makes sense that a book about the wild vagaries and whims of desire should leave the reader feeling grumpily unsatisfied, but part of the problem is that Paul — at least as he comes across here — is both humourless and self-indulgent, which makes him irritating company for the reader in spite of Aciman's gifts as a stylist.

Enigma Variations. By Andre Aciman.

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