I just finished Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name for the second time. I read it and 4 days later turned right around and read it a second time. At best, only a handful of books have been worthy of a reread in my entire life. Never have I ever reread a book right after I had finished it the first time. CMBYN is just that good.
This year, my reading goal has been to read books by or predominately about women and books that are about people or cultures that are not much like me at all. I have enjoyed several books about refugees, people of various races and cultures, and books about and by people in the LGBT community. Even though I am choosing books to #readforempathy, I find that these are stories in which I can relate by my own experiences no matter what the content or who’s the author. I love that so much. That’s why we read, isn’t it: to connect to others? To know we have shared experiences, even by others who appear to be on some level different from us?
Some minor spoilers ahead.
On the surface, CMBYN is about a romance between two men in Italy in the 1980’s. Elio’s family hosts someone to live at their villa while finishing his/her manuscript. They do this every summer. This particular summer it’s Oliver, a professor at Columbia back in the States. Oliver exudes confidence and gains the attention of Elio immediately. Oliver is 24; Elio is 17. I know what you’re going to say. I said it, too. But hang with me for a second.
It’s difficult to say succinctly what I loved most about this novel–what I connected to the most–but here goes.
- Elio’s first-person narration: The entire book is pretty much Elio’s inner most thoughts; very little dialogue is present. He is precocious, intellectual, smart, self aware, and–among many other things–super awkward and conflicted. He spends more than half the novel being in a state of turmoil that he could easily remedy if he could conjure just a little courage to let Oliver know where he stands. Walking though the struggle with him, a reader with any past experience with love, desire, obsession, infatuation, or passion can completely relate. Admiring someone from afar is absolute torture, and Elio’s longing is so full of truth because he just doesn’t know what to do with it. Who can’t relate to that? Thus, Elio behaves in some pretty shocking ways to satisfy his desire to be close to Oliver. More on that later.
- The coming of age story: Elio is completely enamored by Oliver, yet he does things that show his fickleness and immaturity. For example, he fantasizes about Oliver all day and night, yet after he has spent time with his semi-girlfriend, Marzia, he doesn’t know if he really wants to be with Oliver after all. But that’s how it can be sometimes, right? One’s emotions change, depending on the circumstances. Elio has just enjoyed his time with Marzia, so he doesn’t need Oliver…until that feeling wears off and he wants him again.
- The symbolism: There are so many layers to this story, and the way Aciman unfolds it is gorgeous. The title of the novel–without giving too much away–comes straight from Elio and Oliver’s deep connection to one another. Eventually their feelings are laid out in the open, and they are so much in sync that they can almost communicate with one another by saying nothing at all. They connect, not only on a physical level but also on a mental, philosophical, and emotional level. “Call me by your name, and I’ll call you by mine.” Elio and Oliver are one and the same. Additionally, their names are tightly connected. You can’t spell Oliver without Elio. But the reader must remember that we are only seeing Oliver from Elio’s perspective; therefore, he’s almost an enigma, and Elio isn’t reliable because he acts upon impulses based on experiences and interactions that he may misinterpret. Even the move tie-in cover edition depicts this perfectly. Because the reader sees Oliver only through Elio’s eyes, Oliver is obstructed from view.
- The writing: It’s not just Aciman’s story but the way he tells it that is so incredibly beautiful. I found myself reading a passage and then rereading it several times because his use of language is so gorgeous. I enjoyed the passages where Elio played out these hypothetical conversations or encounters with Oliver the most. His stream of consciousness is on point. Aciman manages to say what I could never find the words to say. If only Aciman could write my own thoughts for the rest of my life. He is able to verbalize everything I want to say. The man speaks truth–because this isn’t an LGBT story: it’s anyone’s love story.
- The reaction this story gave me. As previously mentioned, there are some pretty shocking parts in this book. The characters do some pretty bizarre things that I just wasn’t prepared for. As I said, I’ll try not to spoil anything, but, as evidenced by this selfie I sent to my book twin who had already read the book, I was super not ready for some of it (yet I was completely there for it). When I did my second read through, I really enjoyed the meaning behind some of these strange and weird parts, and I even understood them more once the shock had worn off from the first time. In many ways, those parts held their own beauty.
Final summation: I am just going to go ahead and say it: this sits on very top of my favorite list. I connected to these two characters more than I ever thought I would, and I understood things about love and longing and obsession and desire that I hadn’t thought about in a long time. I laughed, I cried, I hurt, and I felt joy. In fact, right now, I’m feeling pretty melancholic and wistful and am missing these two characters, just as they might miss one another. What more could a reader ask for?
P.S. I also saw the movie after I finished the book the first time. I really couldn’t handle Timothee Chalamet’s performance because I found him to be super cringy; HOWEVER, upon my second read, I. Get. It. Elio is so awkward! Dude should have won that freaking Oscar. If you see the movie, do not turn it off when the credits start rolling. Watch ’til the very end. I’m curious as to what people think about that last 5 seconds before the screen goes black. Why did he do that? What does it mean for the audience?
UPDATE (April 2018): I also listened to the audio book (for my 3rd reading), read by Armie Hammer. That was sort of strange since he plays Oliver in the movie, yet he read for Elio’s narration in the audiobook. Strange to say the least, but his voice is like butter, so it worked in a weird way. And now, I sit with the worst book hangover I’ve ever had. 😦
I’ll leave you with this. Go read the book to find out why. 😉 😉