Call Me by Your Name is a novel that I find painstakingly difficult to sum up within the confines of an article. However, my friend Jasmine managed to reduce it to five words: “two gay blokes in France.” Despite this being amusing and agonisingly wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this is what most people believe is behind the title. So, as a courtesy to the book, and André Aciman himself, I will try my best to give the manuscript a review befitting of its brilliance.
Within these pages, Elio Perlman reminisces about the summer of 1983 at his parent’s holiday home in Bordighera, Italy. The novel centralises on the adolescent’s overwhelming infatuation for one of his father’s yearly-staying doctoral students, Oliver. Elio’s fever-dreamish recount tows the line of his resentment and longing for Oliver while he tries to come to terms with his sexuality. Aciman eloquently depicts this story, enticing the reader to feel Elio’s pain in his own overdramatised and romanticised way.
A quotation that I believe perfectly captures the essence of the novel is, “Is it better to speak or to die?” ‘Speak’ meaning confess his love for Oliver, but by confessing his love for Oliver he runs the risk of being rejected by Oliver and possibly his family. This rejection, to Elio’s overthinking and introverted mind, regards a fate worse than death. Rest assured that his hesitation isn’t simply just a literary ploy, it is also a contextual barrier; you see, society in the early eighties was not as liberal as it is today, and homophobia was far more prevalent.
However much you see the book categorised under LGBTQ+ fiction, the fact remains that the word “gay” isn’t mentioned once throughout the novel. Aciman credits this to his original plans of having a straight affair portrayed but, despite his initial plans, I think following a relationship between two men in the eighties gave the story a richer and less stereotypical “boy meets girl” presentiment. Furthermore, I believe the writer wanted to create a relationship that doesn’t exude the clichés that often follow characters written in entertainment but create two real people that have their own thoughts, feelings, and demons.
Call Me by Your Name is a deeply beautiful book, emotionally and intellectually. I would strongly encourage anyone to pick it up and give it a read. This novel will give you something to think about for years to come and you will depart with its abundant wisdoms.