Book Review: André Aciman // Call Me By Your Name

My rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The first half of this book was a strong four stars for me then it all went downhill from there. It became rather a chore to read! Call Me By Your Name can be seen everywhere. The film boosted the novel’s popularity and I can see why it’s got the hype but the book could have been so much more!

Every year Elio’s family has a research student stay with them in their Italian summer house. This year it is twenty-four year old Oliver who specialises in the pre-Socratic’s. His work influences his character, he is calm and collected — leaving his feelings rather ambiguous.

Elio (seventeen) becomes obsessed with Oliver. It accompanies every waking thought and sleeping dream. Everything Elio does is planned around Oliver. And all Elio wants is for Oliver’s recognition and then for them to end up in bed together. The novel follows Elio’s perspective so you are immersed in his thinking and it can get overwhelming.

In the first half of the novel, I found rather accurate. The intense love and fear that your feelings are not going to be returned. And it is plausible and fine to have a crush on someone older, there was nothing weird about that, to begin with. Elio’s anxiety is realistic but it soon all descends into implausibility — and also created some ethical questions.

This may be a spoiler (I think that’s to be expected from my work now) but it turns out Oliver knew how Elio was feeling all along. Perhaps their relationship, twenty-four and seventeen, isn’t too big of a deal, but I think playing with a young person’s feelings and causing such anxiety and frustration has ethical implications.

Achiman grants the pair to have a short-lived relationship but that only comes after Oliver ignoring Elio time after time. The first time it is cute, like a little bit of flirting but then it just becomes unfair. The power dynamic of their relationship is not equal. Oliver understands love and the world around him, Elio has spent almost all of his life in this small Italian village — Oliver knows exactly what he was doing and their relationship depicts the wrong idea to readers. Especially young impressionable ones who stumble across the book.

Likewise, when Oliver left after his summer stay I think the book should have ended there. Having their life explored after, Oliver marrying and Elio studying in America should have been left to the reader’s imagination. It ruined and blunted the passion and meaning of the relationship.

Call Me By Your Name is an interesting exploration of love and passion as it goes outside the normal heterosexual boundaries. There was so much potential for age gaps to be discussed fruitfully but Achiman only allowed the hostile views to thrive. Do I recommend reading? I think so, yes. Maybe stop after halfway though!


23/05/21

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