Book review: Call me by your name by Andre Aciman

A story you will be hung up on!

“And on the evening when we grow older still we’ll speak about these two young men as though they were two strangers we met on the train. And we’ll want to call it envy, because to call it regret would break our hearts”

Andre Aciman’s novel Call Me by Your Name, later adapted to a film version by the same name is not just a beautiful story, but a brutally raw one. While on the surface, it is the tempestuous story of seventeen-year-old Elio and a house guest, named Oliver, who is staying at Elio’s family home for the summer, Call Me by Your Name is a brazen narrative of an adolescent’s discovery and understanding of his sexual identity and the journey of accepting and acknowledging his feelings. 

Elio is the seventeen-year-old son of a reputed academic and scholar. While his father hosts different guests each summer, at their family home, on the Italian Riviera- one particular houseguest, a 24-year-old postdoc teaching at Columbia is someone whose very presence has set Elio’s heart on fire. Oliver is at the Riviera for about a month and a half, revising his manuscript. There is a continuous increased attraction and tension between the two with each passing day. Well, you will have to read it for yourself because the story is beautiful beyond description. 

Personally, after having read the book you’ll not be the same on an emotional parameter as before. The context of the story is the most interesting it is not necessary for you to associate with it, or understand Elio and Oliver’s feelings for each other, or even know the names of the characters, and yet you will find it, an uphill task to return as the same individual before you opened the pages of this book. What primarily intrigued me to watch the film was Sufjan Steven’s mesmerising rendition and peaceful music, in the form of a song titled ‘Mystery of Love’, from the film. Having read a little about it, intrigued me to read the book, before watching the film (I would advise you here: always read the book first and then watch the adaptation). There are quotes and phrases in those pages that you would want to re-read, carry a piece of them with you, or imprint some of the dialogues to your memory. 

There’s no happy ending, no closure, no perfect forever, no promises taken, or sealed, no reigniting of hope and yet, when you reach its concluding page, you will have unconsciously traded off a little bit of yourself, in exchange for the story. It is not a beautiful story, it is a beautifully raw story, rather. There is no ‘betrayal’ or ‘loss of love’, just two lovers wandering off onto different paths, figuring out their individual courses of life, returning to the mundane normalcy- not out of fear or pressure. There are no questions posed, and no answers expected. The story is but an open-ended question! And if its essence can be encapsulated by individual few words it would be- stunning, stirring and stimulating! Another element that really stirred me, was the conclusion of the summer sojourn and Oliver’s stay, which stands as a metaphor for ‘intensity’ fading away with time, as the season does too. Despite that, it leaves a sweet aftertaste of the days spent basking in its comfort, which stick to our memories for a lifetime. And what remains of that intense and heightened summer for Elio and Oliver are- a billowy blue t-shirt and a postcard of Monet’s berm. 

Andre Aciman’s writing style is descriptive and heavily laced with imagery. A golden necklace, the Star of David, references of poetic literature like Leopardi, a canto of Dante’s ‘Inferno’, Glaucus and Diomedes- you might be unable to remember all these details or recall that you are a reader after finishing the book. The emotions explored in the story might have swept over your thoughts, by that time. The words are intricately woven with hesitation, exploration of one’s sexual identity, adolescent emotions, and there is an amusing nervousness in some dialogues. The prose is rich in literary references, but in a manner that they would not hinder your reading experience. There is a dash of the usage of Italian or more precisely colloquial Northern Italian, so you might find yourself looking up a few references.  Also, set almost a decade after ‘Call Me By Your Name”, “Find Me” is the sequel in Elio and Oliver’s story.

Though there are a few themes intertwined, in the story and an open-ended question that arises out of this concoction, the reflection is on how ‘social acceptance’ is devastatingly powerful. So much so that it can wreak unspoken havoc even in the absence of any external and evident pressure. Now I am not sure if I want to watch the film adaptation because what if, — Elio, Oliver, Marzia, Vamini, Chiara, Anchise – all of whom my imagination has stirred up images of, are not the same on the screen, as they are deftly wrapped in Aciman’s writing. Having said that, I am curious to see what the stunning cast of Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer in the film adaptation do but only when the pixie dust that the magic spell this book has cast wears itself off, little by little. 

“I shut my eyes, say the word, and I’m back in Italy…

Watching him step out of the cab, billowy blue shirt, wide-open collar, sunglasses, straw hat, skin everywhere”

About the writer: Nakshatra is a journalism graduate from Delhi University and is looking forward to, pursuing a Master’s degree in English Literature. She likes reading, writing poems, and while she’s not reading, she likes binge watching series and unravelling their cinematic in-between themes and metaphors or sharing her reviews about the books she’s recently read. Blackout poetry and book-to-film adaptations pique her interest.

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