Review: Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Author: André Aciman
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: January 23rd 2007
Source: Personal Copy
While browsing the shelves, I found this slender novel at my local Goodwill store about a week ago. I’ve had this title on my to-buy list for years, ever since it was released in 2007. Needless to say I moved it to the top of my pile.
Call Me By Your Name is, on the surface, a typical European summer romance and a gay teenager’s coming-of-age. Below that, however, lies a vivid, passionate, and heartbreaking look at one young man’s obsession and sexual awakening. Seventeen-year-old Elio lives with his family in a coastal Italian town. Every summer his father hosts a different young American scholar who, in exchange for helping around the house and office, uses the summer to complete an academic manuscript. Even though Elio has endured this intrusion for as long as he can remember, cool and arrogant Oliver is the first guest who stirred something deep inside. During the six week duration the two must come to terms with the mutual attraction and deal with the unintended consequences of their actions.
Perhaps the very least I wanted was for him to tell me that there was nothing wrong with me, that I was no less human than any other young man my age. I would have been satisfied and asked for nothing else than if he’d bent down and picked up the dignity I could so effortlessly have thrown at his feet.
From the beginning I found myself getting lost in the wonderful prose of Aciman. Each intricate sentence I came across solidified my belief. The detailing of setting and emotion make this story spark and really engulfed my thoughts. Although I’ve never traveled to Italy, the sights, sounds, and smells the author included gave me an excellent sense of place. The entire novel revolves around Elio’s introspection, and I could sense his frustration, longing, and desire. Such detailed writing of emotion created a somewhat claustrophobic mood as Oliver completely dominated his waking moments and nightly dreams. I will caution any potential readers about the detailed sexual nature of the novel and the potential for embarrassment if read in a public place as I found out first hand.
All the characters were wonderful, even though many play very small parts. Elio’s character was so enjoyable that I was able to overlook my one complaint about the novel: his life does come across as too perfect. He’s educated, comes from a wealthy family, and spends his days translating Haydn, lounging by the pool, and going into town with his friends many nights. In a less talented author’s hands this would have come across as pretentious, but Aciman creates a character with so much self hatred and fear that it feels universally understandable.
I am so glad I found this short sensual tale of longing, obsession, and misunderstandings. For anyone who has read it, Call Me By Your Name is definitely reminiscent of Edmund White's A Boy’s Own Story, which I adored as well. I highly recommend this for fans of deeply introspective novels with first person narration.