This article is published in number 21 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until May 24, 2022
To be young, not to be anymore. Does that mean something, specifically, in the bedroom? And out in the world? André Aciman continues his joyful and obstinate exploration of the ages of desire. He knows that the word “lover” – more than with roles, or with betrayals – has to do with the emotional fuel that keeps us alive. Thus, in his new novel, the author of Call me by your name brings together, in a New York with honey-colored summer sunsets, a man and a woman in their sixties. Already “committed”, as they say, and yet willing to fall in love, to see if there is still the right opportunity to hear your heart beating. And the electric current of eros. Maybe quickly slipping under the sheets, because the bodies are no longer in the season of their splendor. But is it really important? Paul and Catherine, living theirs Idyll on the High Line (Guanda), they talk – as always happens in Aciman’s books – a lot. And in this sense they make love even when they don’t.
Writing with desire when the characters are young or when they are elderly is not the same thing. But is there a real difference?
“I don’t think that desires diminish or fade with the passage of time, in fact, the opposite is perhaps true: these two characters are very aware that they are of a certain age, and that perhaps that is the last chance they will have to live. a love affair. They want to find an opportunity to rejuvenate. And love and desire always make us feel very young. At one point Paul notices that woman, and thinks: “I would like to kiss her, I would like to touch her, hold her”. It therefore happens that suddenly he forgets the age she is. It is normal and it is miraculous at the same time. On the other hand, without desire we are already dead ».
The novel describes those moments which, as she says, “give off a special light.” The problem is that, while we live them, we don’t always know how to recognize them. Do books also serve this purpose?
“Yes, I think they give us a kind of grammar of the special moment. I find it, for example, when I read a writer like Dostoevsky, who teaches us to capture the key moments of life. Those in which mystery and beauty are revealed. As a good reader, therefore, you end up looking for these moments in your very existence, and you have a particular lens to identify them ».
Usually, I understand from your novels, these are times when you are not alone.
«I would say this: they are moments of intimacy. True intimacy is infrequent, but if there is it astounds, it has a very powerful light. We are all somehow alone, this is a fact, it is so, and yet the existence of others allows us to get out of this loneliness for a while. But it’s not a question of being in company – that often happens; it is about feeling like a sense of self-enhancement, of fullness, of gratitude. It can’t last, but it makes a difference ».
This vision of intimacy could be compared to the most unpronounceable word: happiness. In the novel Paul hears it: “I’m happy!” But perhaps he too would be ashamed to say so.
“We are not ashamed of being happy, it is true, but we are not really capable of saying it. Perhaps because we consider happiness a luxury, a privilege, and with a feeling of almost chaste modesty we avoid saying when we are. “I’m happy” I think I have said it only once in my life, and I remember it very well, because the person next to me was amazed, perhaps he had never heard such a phrase said aloud, so he asked me: ” But are you really happy? ”, And I confirmed it:“ Yes, I am ”. And we had done nothing but stay in bed all day. In my novels I push the characters to communicate their happiness, to verbalize it, not to hide it. Also because keeping it hidden is a bit like mortifying it ».
Here, Paul and Catherine – can I tell? – they enjoy it. Perhaps to avoid further regrets. You insist a lot on the lives we don’t live.
“I would call it life in the conditional, or in the subjunctive. It always affects us. I wish, I wish. If I could. We are drawn back from the past, sometimes even by remorse. And we continually imagine a future. But then what we live is the present. Even for me it has always been quite difficult to admit that there is only this, only the present. It escapes us, and it is precisely for this reason that we must treasure it ».
I loved the passage where she writes that a person who sings in the shower or who laughs alone may be living a piece of their unlived life.
“Sometimes I think we should always live in the shower! We are naked but happy, incredible ideas often come, we sing, we are not pressed by anything … ».
Speaking of nudity, Paul and Catherine quickly hide under the sheets before making love. Does age have something to do with it here too?
“Most of us are ashamed of our bodies, even if only for a detail. Being naked, having sex is natural, but not entirely. And I must say that that hesitation in undressing, in giving a kiss interests me a lot. The two characters of Idyll on the High LineWhat’s more, they’re anxious because they haven’t done it in a while, and they almost feel like they’ve come back a virgin. They must find ease. But this is beautiful, how beautiful it is to look into each other’s eyes. Then that gaze counts more, while enjoying it, than the defective or faded body. The problem is that we often close our eyes. So we might as well shut ourselves up in the bathroom and go it alone. ”
Admit it: he wrote another very romantic novel. Especially since the talisman that flashes on many pages is Wuthering Heights.
«I also mentioned it in Call me by your name. It is one of the first “serious” novels I read when I was fifteen. It marked me, because it tells of absolute love, it made me feel suddenly an adult. And that beautiful phrase that I have Catherine say – “He is more me than myself” – comes from there. She is an older woman to say it in my novel, but she proves that something strong can be experienced at any age. Indeed, perhaps I wanted to remind myself of it ».
The pandemic and now the war in Ukraine – like any catastrophe – can produce a strange embarrassment or guilt, that of continuing to enjoy while the world burns.
«There is a part of our mind occupied by the consciousness of a pain more or less distant. And yet it would be impossible to give up what, over the course of the day, makes us satisfied. Even if it were the wonderful caponata that a friend prepared me the other day. I enjoyed it, that’s it, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. “
An Italian bartender appears in the book, and the sfogliatelle are evoked. There is always some Italian detail in his works lately.
«I am not obsessed with food and cooking as many of my peers who are crazy about cooking do. But perhaps the obsession with Italy does. If there is no Italy, it seems to me that every story becomes a little more banal ».
In the bookstore
The novel Idyll on the High Lineby André Aciman (Guanda, pp. 144, € 16; translation by Valeria Bastia) tells of a mature and passionate love between two sixty-year-olds.
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Source: Vanity Fair