Call Me By Your Name: The Book Review

Call Me By Your Name, Cinematic Adaptation

Introduction

Call Me By Your Name is a book that throbs with desire. André Aciman’s 2007 novel (and the basis for the film of the same franchise in 2017) is a portrait of adolescent love and lust, experienced for the first time with an intensity that’s almost frightening in how all-consuming it feels. And Aciman devotes himself to chronicling every fleeting fantasy, every caress, with a fervour that matches what his characters are feeling.

About The Author

André Aciman is an Italian-American writer. Born and raised in Alexandria,Egypt, he is currently distinguished professor at the Graduate Center of City University of NewYork, where he teaches the history of literary theory  and the works of Marcel  Proust.

He is the author of several novels, including Call Me By Your Name and a 1995 memoir, Out of Egypt, which won a Whiting Award.  Although best known for Call Me by Your Name, Aciman stated in an interview in 2019 that his best book is the novel Eight White Nights.

André Aciman

Storyline of The Novel

It tells the story of a blooming romance between 17-year-old Elio Perlman, and 24-year-old visiting scholar Oliver, who comes to the summer home of Elio’s parents in Italy, 1983.

The story is told in retrospect, with grown-up Elio recalling the events of that fateful summer. He always resented his parents’ tradition of taking a doctorate student into their home for six weeks each year, forcing him to vacate his bedroom (that sacred space of a teenage boy) to make room for their guest. That all changed when Oliver, a Harvard graduate student comes to stay with the academic expat family in the Italian Riviera, where he will oversee the translation of his dissertation on Heraclitus. As he wins the family over with his breezy charm and preppy insouciance, Oliver also inspires the adoration of the professor’s teenage son, Elio, who relays to us each stage of his infatuation.

Elio catalogues every aspect of Oliver—his gazes, his phrases—and even augurs meaning from his clothing: “He had, it took me a while to realize, four personalities depending on which bathing suit he was wearing.” Elio, in turn, dazzles Oliver with his precocity—he’s a virtuoso on piano and on an enviously easy footing with literature from Ovid to Celan. But he is unsure and untested in carnal matters. His desire for Oliver literally false-starts when he accidentally (and discreetly) ejaculates in his presence (the scene recalls Marcel’s embarrassing tussle with Gilberte). But when Oliver starts sleeping with a local girl, it seems that Elio’s fantasies of consummation will never be realized. He muses about killing, or at least crippling, Oliver: “If he were in a wheelchair, I would always know where he was, and he’d be easy to find.”

But then, just as Elio has given up hope, it happens: He slips into Oliver’s room one night and so begins their five-week love affair. They have adventurous, almost incessant sex, during which, at Oliver’s prompting, they call each other by the other’s name. As a strategy for subsuming the other’s self, this verbal masquerade is strikingly successful. At first shameful for Elio, their passion quickly becomes all-consuming. The lovers revel in their sameness—they are both young Jews, “brothers in the desert”; they experience the same sexual pains and pleasures; their minds travel along the same currents to catch the right literary references.

Timotheé Chalamet as Elio Perlman and Armie Hammer as Oliver, in Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Analysis of The Story

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’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.

The psychological manoeuvres that accompany attraction have seldom been more shrewdly captured than in André Aciman’s frank, unsentimental, heartrending elegy to human passion. Call Me by Your Name is clear-eyed, bare-knuckled, and ultimately unforgettable.

Timotheé Chalamet as Elio Perlman

Criticism of The Story

Despite the fact that it’s a coming-of-age story, Call Me By Your Name is hardly a young adult book. For one, it’s quite erotic, albeit in a highly literary way. All of the sexual encounters (including one truly smutty incident with a peach) are depicted in detail, but not to titillate. It feels more like Aciman is simply demonstrating the depth and desperation of Elio and Oliver’s desire.

Call Me by Your Name ends with a series of unsatisfactory but still charged meetings between Elio and Oliver later in life. They have a rendezvous in New England, where Elio is traveling and where Oliver teaches and lives with his family. The novel, despite its melancholy send-off, ultimately holds out an extremely un-Proustian, optimistic promise: Love and understanding can endure hand in hand. Elio can still say of Oliver, “This was my favourite Oliver: the one who thought exactly like me.” Twenty years later, when they return to one of their cherished spots in Italy, Elio asks only to be called once more by the name Oliver—as if to imply that nothing has changed. For Proust, such naming is inevitably fraught with failure (Marcel at one point wishes he could give a different name to each of the Albertines he knows). The notion that the past could ever obey such a summons, that anyone could ever be so static, suggests that Elio has breached, but finally resisted, Proustian knowledge. This shying away leaves us with something less than we might have expected from Aciman’s previous reckonings with time.

Scene from the Movie Call Me By Your Name

Conclusion

Even with all the critical analysis, the storyline wins millions of hearts with the sweet message of love, that can happen to anyone under any circumstance. The story broke some stereotypes about how the meaning of Love is mostly depicted in society. It normalizes the simplicity, the beauty and the agony of love between two men, in a never seen before way. And that makes the book an ultimate winner for its modern day readers.