CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by André Aciman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007
I think I would have found this book insufferable had it been written by an author with even a sliver less skill than André Aciman. It’s fraught with clichés, as well as an abundance of elements that usually irritate me – characters being preternaturally gifted at everything, talk of sex on just about every page, at times tedious introspection, being told rather than shown how characters feel – but somehow Call Me by Your Name is greater than the sum of its parts, or maybe André Aciman knew exactly what he was doing with this book’s at times infuriating construction, because he ultimately won me over against my better judgment.
Call Me by Your Name is less romantic than I had been expecting. Instead, it’s charged with sexual tension, and the relationship between Elio and Oliver is characterized less by romance than by passion and obsession (which isn’t to say it’s not intensely intimate). Aciman chronicles the somewhat contradictory nature of young love with precision – the fear, the hesitation, the desire that Elio felt were all achingly real. Though it’s a story that builds very slowly, Elio is a compelling narrator, and his struggle for self-awareness a well-crafted thread that holds the novel together.
I think I mainly liked this book for two reasons. The first is that it’s one of the most evocative things I’ve ever read – it transported me back to summer nights in Italy with an unnervingly convincing atmosphere. And the second is that André Aciman’s prose is exquisite. This book is unapologetically pretentious in a way that I found more stimulating than irritating, though I’m sure many would disagree with that assessment. I was reminded of The Secret History in a way – Aciman’s writing is nothing at all like Tartt’s, but the comparison is that some people hate that book for its abundant intellectualism, and some people (myself included) can’t help but to love it for it. I thought the intertextuality in Call Me by Your Name was nothing short of brilliant – references to Paul Celan, Emily Bronte, Michel de Montaigne, Dante, and Claude Monet abound – which for me served to give an understanding of how these characters interacted with the world, or in Elio’s case, hid behind literary references instead of interacting with the world.
I still don’t really know what I’m trying to communicate with this review. This book was nothing like what I’d expected, but I was still utterly swept away by it. I guess I’d been expecting a slow burn romance and instead found myself reading intellectually charged literary soft-erotica, so I think I have to give Aciman credit where it’s due for winning me over, because if that is the book I’d been expecting to read, I don’t think I would have picked it up in the first place. This was a beautiful novel, especially for a story that’s more about the ugliness of love than the beauty of it.
Also, this is the 100th book I finished this year. Yay!