REVIEW: Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

You might be thinking that this title looks familiar on this blog. You would be correct. In June 2018, after listening to the audiobook and watching the movie, I made a post comparing the two. Considering that books have the ability to include more details than movies, the comparisons are rarely fair. However, it did not stop me from giving it a go, based on my recollection of the audiobook. You can find that original post here.

For everyone’s sake, this will not be a comparison post. I’m not going to rehash the details that I discussed in that original post, but rather focus on the novel itself. While I do like audiobooks, I prefer to have a paper copy in my hands. I like being able to revisit it and find a moment that was startling in its honesty and emotion by simply flipping through the pages. I did love the audiobook, thoroughly enjoying the words being given voice. Yet, it is never the same for me.

So for my fifth read of 2021, I decided to come back to a book that I have never actually read and settle in.

As such, we are back with Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman.

As I mentioned before the jump, I loved the audiobook for this novel. Armie Hammer brought the text to life, granting it a level of beauty as I listened. That being said, I have never been able to immerse myself into an audiobook the way that I can with a paper copy of the novel. I notice far more about the work when I read it, as opposed to listening to it.

I started reading the book on Valentine’s Day and was finished reading it by the next day. I was able to fall into the text, to find its heart beat and follow the rhythm until its conclusion. I melted into the words on the page and lived there for a time, my own world stopping to allow me to join the characters. I eagerly swam alongside them and felt the pining need of Elio to get a single moment with Oliver.

Zwischen Immer und Nie (Between Always and Never), for you in silence, somewhere in Italy in the mid-eighties.

Aciman 105

One of the most beautiful parts of the novel is the way that Aciman uses narration. We are seeing the world through Elio’s eyes, but from roughly 20 years in the future. Thus, the novel takes on this nostalgic feel. There is a large amount of description punctuated by these crucial moments between Elio and Marzia, Elio and his father, and of course, Elio and Oliver. The moments are weaved beautifully in the tapestry of letters on the page, pulling the reader into Italy and the growing feelings between Elio and Oliver.

There is something haunting about the text though. Its beauty leaves a mark on your soul. When I finished reading, I wanted to crawl back into the text and begin again. I was not prepared to be done anymore that Elio was prepared for Oliver to head home. What drags you back in is that you want them to find happiness, to have a moment where they come together and the beauty outshines everything. While we do get a glimpse of this, we are left wanting more, begging to be granted another scrap of happiness before the conclusion.

The Age Gap

Something unexpected seemed to clear away between us, and, for a second, it seemed there was absolutely no difference in age between us, just two men kissing, and even this seemed to dissolve, as I began to feel we were not even two men, just two beings.

Aciman 131-132

It isn’t a perfect novel, of course. I think it is important to touch on the age gap since Elio is 17 to Oliver’s 24. While there are no legal concerns since the age of consent in Italy is 14, that does not mean there is no other concerns. So let’s consider it.

Elio was the pursuer in most situations, especially before they end up together. He seeks out Oliver, brings up the connection between them, speaks about his own feelings, without any type of coercion from Oliver. Also, we are seeing things from Elio’s point of view, which allows us insight that we would not have otherwise. Had the book come from Oliver’s point of view, things might be very different.

Oliver does not hold an actual position of power over Elio, though an argument could be made that his age is the position of power, but I am thinking more of a boss/employee or teacher/student situation. An argument could also be made that Elio would not want to cause a problem for his parents by raising a fuss if something went wrong. However based on Elio’s relationship with his parents, I don’t think that is a huge concern. Reading this from Elio’s point of view also helps in this case.

Finally, Oliver does place an emphasis on ensuring he has Elio’s consent in most of the scenes we see. The exception is likely the mini-blow job after they spend the night together. Even the peach scene which seems less than consensual in the film does not come across that way in the book.

Overall, I think the age gap was handled better than in most media, where there is often a larger power dynamic thrown in (excessive amounts of money or a job such as a teacher). Had Oliver been asking for more than Elio was fit to give or been the pursuer, my feelings would likely be a lot more conflicted, but I’m still not completely sure where I fall on this issue. Maybe on the side of ‘It could be better, but it could have been much worse.’

And maybe I stared back because there wasn’t a thing to lose now. I stared back with the all-knowing, I-dare-you-to-kiss-me gaze of someone who both challenges and flees with one and the same gesture.

Aciman 78

Overall, this novel is fantastic. The characters are compelling, their storyline impossible to resist, and the prose is beautiful. Once I picked the book up, I did not want to put it down. I was drawn right into the story and wanted to stay there until the inevitable conclusion. It captures a story between two young men, who are unsure where their lives will lead, but are willing to take a chance on this moment, any moment, to find a bit of happiness.

If you would like to read this book, I urge you to purchase it from a book store owned by a person of colour. Here is a list of stores in Canada and the United States that are owned by Black or Indigenous people.

Have you read the novel? Listened to the audiobook? Watched the movie? What did you think?


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