The project is one of recognition and revelation within the reader: the book wants nothing less than the dissolution of your consciousness into its pixellated moments of psychological precision ... the third section, 'Manfred,' grows a little tedious. Unlike Aciman’s steamy first novel Call Me by Your Name, most of the skin-to-skin contact in Enigma Variations occurs in the narrator’s head, and in 'Manfred,' Paul wallows longwindedly in the agony of delayed avowal ... Intriguingly, as we witness Paul repeatedly rearrange his life around a new magnetic north, it becomes clear that his bisexuality abets his serial monogamy ... Aciman has captured Paul’s bridge life delightfully well.
Enigma Variations isn’t a conventionally linear novel. Though it first appears to contain all the delights of that form — the immersiveness, the shocks of plot — it has too many gaps and intentional omissions. Instead, this book wants to be music in words, giving the reader a cellular sense of how it feels to move through time ... Aciman writes arousal so beautifully you miss it when it’s gone ... Near the end the book’s harmonic intention comes to full flower. Giovanni rings through Maud, Maud through Manfred. It’s not that they’re variations on the same character; they don’t inhabit the same emotional position ... Perhaps the book’s greatest wonder is to suggest we can be wildly different people over the span of a life depending on what we lack ... He writes with the ferocity of a writer who’s finally getting his vision down, and he has to say it, has to get it out. He’s made a magnificent, living thing.
...a sublime series of portraits of one man’s sexual history ... Aciman writes tremendous lust scenes — moments where the erotic power of a man or a woman is so strong it reshapes its well-educated but heedless hero ... The fractured structure of Enigma Variations is key to the novel’s strength — the book is built on variations on a theme, not a familiar arc of love-gone-wrong or happily-ever-after. This leads to some contrivances, like the section about the woman Paul tumbles into bed with once every four years. But the push-me-pull-you relationship is also a surprisingly tender way to explore the idea of 'relief [and] its terrible partner, indifference, which is the impulse to let go before we’ve even begun reaching for what we crave' ... There’s something here for everyone, along with the appealing notion that everybody can be encompassed by this book’s particular someone.