André Aciman’s second novel is so awash in feverish romanticism that, at the very least, you have to admire its courage. It’s a modern New York City fairytale – rooted in time only by the casual mention of mobile phones and Starbucks – wherein a city bus can be described without irony as a ‘Stygian vessel headed towards destinations and sights unseen’. Aciman lends his lyrical prose to the eight days and nights in the courtship of Clara, a ‘dyspeptic Upper West Side girl on antidepressants,’ by the novel’s unnamed, 28-year-old narrator.
While the author deftly captures the charged banter that distinguishes a burgeoning love affair, the novel is less about the two main characters than about the tropes and emotional crescendos of romance: ardent glances, gently falling snow. Early on, Clara confesses, ‘It’s never me men want, just someone like me.’ Similarly, in Aciman’s thrilling (though rather shallow) dream world, it’s not real life anyone wants, just something like it.