Genre: LGBT, Fiction, Romance
Author: André Aciman
“Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliffside mansion on the Italian Riviera. During the restless summer weeks, unrelenting but buried currents of obsession, fascination, and desire intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them and verge toward the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy. André Aciman’s critically acclaimed debut novel is a frank, unsentimental, heartrending elegy to human passion.”
Before penning down my thoughts on “Call Me by Your Name”, I was in a dilemma.
As it happens with other books related to homosexuality, minority, racism, classics, feminism- I remained in two minds before forming my opinion.
Should I blurt out what I really really felt about the plot?
Or should I let the popular notion (that if it’s a book about under-represented class, it has to be lauded) cloud my own judgment?
What my inner-voice was trying to tell me was that- I wish I could have liked this book more.
What I didn’t like:
If there is one word to describe CMBYN, for me, it should be –pretentious.
There are certain elements in the book like- places, foods, idle lifestyle and richness (both in terms of environment and bank balance), that I could kill for in my teenage years.
But other times, these very same elements make the struggle of Elio and Oliver seems- the rich people’s problem.
The illustrious (and exhausting) descriptions of Italian summer?Check.
Random literary jargon, and a smattering of Proust and Shelly ? Check.
Battery of loyal domestic assistants that would make even an upmarket Indian home-maker green with envy? Check.
Lots of dilly-dallying about sexual frustration and coming-of-age trope? Check,check, check.
All of these turned the book into a purple prose literature.
The moping around
I somehow connected with Elio when he was 17 and seeking out the company of a man 7 years his senior, and out of his reach.
Didn’t most of us go through similar longings and heartbreaks during our teenage years, irrespective of sexual preference?
But then again, the Elio of mid-30s exasperated me so much.
When both the protagonists met after 20 years span ( and leading alternative lives parallel), it came out clear that Elio was not over Oliver yet.
Even after bedding many and ‘supposedly’ leading a charmed life all along.
Why Elio why? Or should I ask André Aciman?
I mean, the first love should be the spring-board from which, any functioning adult (like Elio, who otherwise followed the set-route; getting a job, dating, travelling wide etc.) is expected to take lessons for future relationships.
Then why did Elio mope around (while Oliver moved on) is beyond logical reasoning; unless you say, love is illogical.
Character portrayal of Oliver
Besides, nothing particularly was going for Oliver that could have made him such an object of desire, except his looks.
But other than that, to me, he came across as-
- liar (how conveniently he forgot to tell the kid bed-fellow that he had a fiancée stashed somewhere in USA).
Okay, I admit. When you are 17 and experimenting with your own sexual preference, you don’t know anything better.
But it’s irksome to see a grown-up Elio still putting Oliver on a pedestal and massaging his ego.
The bizarre sex scenes
I am all for sex-positive scenes between two lovers. And ‘Call Me by Your Name’ has aplenty.
But as much I appreciate the boldness with which the author narrated the sexual encounters (the book published in 2007 when talking about homosexuality was still somewhat hush-hushed), I couldn’t fail to notice that he might have had a streak of perversion during the gestation phase.
Case 1: Elio’s masturbating with a peach (and what Oliver did with the fruit later on- was pukeowrthy)
Case 2: Both the lovers checking out each other’s poop (million times eww) for deeper connections or such mumbo-jumbo.
It would have been so much fun if any of them had a sudden bout of diarrhea.
Or maybe, I am a prude from a close-minded society and a chicken. Or the cultural differences are too much.
What I loved
The relation between Elio and his father (I wish the author had written some more lines about mother-son bonding as well) is out-of-my -world.
This is the parental guidance we, the children, deserve but don’t receive most of the times.
The conversation Elio had with his father towards the end of the book got me into wistful thinking.
Only if it was a story of a gay son and his father in a conservative society, it could have been much more impactful.
There are some beautiful quotes in this book which I loved so much. Take for an instance-
People who read are hiders. They hide who they are. People who hide don’t always like who they are.
“Twenty years was yesterday, and yesterday was just earlier this morning, and morning seemed light-years away.”
And the last paragraph–
I stopped for a second. If you remember everything, I wanted to say, and if you are really like me, then before you leave tomorrow, or when you’re just ready to shut the door of the taxi and have already said goodbye to everyone else and there’s not a thing left to say in this life, then, just this once, turn to me, even in jest, or as an afterthought, which would have meant everything to me when we were together, and, as you did back then, look me in the face, hold my gaze, and call me by your name.
Holy moly André Aciman, see what you did to me.
I sobbed into the pillow at the middle of night, like an idiot.
This is more tear-jerking than all the tear-jerkers Bollywood produced in last 10 years, put together.
This is a pleasant- but- somewhat-shallow gay love-story. You may give it a try if you want to taste a slice of mid-80s idyllic Italian summer and an unusual romance blooming in the backdrop.
For Indian readers, it’s unlikely that “Call Me by Your Name”- the film, would ever release in India (we don’t talk about sex here, let alone gay-sex).
So you might pick up the book as well.