Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

Reviewer: David C Dawson

What We Thought:

There are some writers whose writing is so beautiful, and so profound, that you have to pause and reread sections of their work. Did he really pinpoint exactly how I felt in a similar situation, over thirty years ago? Did he reawaken that profound memory, locked inside my mind, and phrase it with such exquisite elegance?

Aciman is one of those writers.

This is his first novel. And yet the writing is confident, spare, and pin sharp in its depiction of a six-week romance between a seventeen-year-old boy and a twenty-four year old man.

It is the mid 1980s, and Elio is a precocious teenager on holiday with his academic, liberal parents on the Italian Riviera. His summer routine of reading, composing at the piano and lazing by the pool is shaken by the arrival of Oliver, a young American lecturer from Columbia University. He has come to assist Elio’s father with his academic work. Oliver is bright and brash. He sometimes irritates Elio with his use of the dismissive word “Later” instead of “Goodbye”.

Elio first swoons, then makes clumsy, naïve passes at Oliver. We are unsure whether Oliver is interested, or is even gay. Aciman creates an intricate cat and mouse game between the two, viewed through the eyes of the hormonally charged Elio.

A large part of the book paints an accurate picture of teenage insecurity and frustration. Then the passion kicks in, and things really heat up. The writing is very sensual, and very beautiful. There is a speech delivered by Elio’s world-weary, seemingly all-knowing father towards the end of the book that had me welling up at its poignancy. “Right now there’s sorrow,” he says. “I don’t envy the pain. But I envy you the pain.”

The film of this book came out last year, and captured the atmosphere well. But inevitably the screen adaptation omitted sections of the original. If you have seen the film and not yet read the book, I urge you to do so. There is a completeness in the original text which is missing from the film.

This is far more than a gay coming of age romance. It is a timeless evocation of love

You’ll enjoy this if you like: A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White

Avoid if you don’t like: Some limited description of gay sex

Ideal accompaniments: A fresh ripe peach

Genre: Romance, LGBTQ

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