“There are the other scenes: the postprandial silence—some of us napping, some working, others reading, the whole world basking away in hushed semitones.”
I finished Call Me By Your Name in two hazy days, swimming through André Aciman’s words like hot blood through veins. The whole thing shines with vigor and longing. I suspect that it will become an ephemeral book—one of those novels that I’ll read quickly, feverishly, loving so hard the first time around that, years later, I may not love again, but I will most certainly remember the intensity of reading it.
The first half is heady with senses and details:
“I look back to that summer and can’t believe that despite every one of my efforts to live with the “fire” and the “swoon,” life still granted wonderful moments. Italy. Summer. The noise of the cicadas in the early afternoon. My room. His room. Our balcony that shut the whole world out. The soft wind trailing exhaltstions from our garden up the stairs to my bedroom. The summer I learned to love fishing. Because he did. To love jogging. Because he did. To love octopus, Heraclitus, Tristan. The summer I’d hear a bird sing, smell a plant, or feel the mist rise from under my feet on warm sunny days and, because my senses were always on alert, would automatically find them rushing to him.”
I like the way Aciman writes about summer, and how the bulk of the novel takes place in the fervor of a few weeks. Perhaps it is a result of my yearning for past Augusts in Italy, along the shores of Lago di Como, or perhaps I am remembering all of my summers in one—that is, every glorious and languid feeling melting into a dizzying rush of nostalgia.
“When I think back to that summer, I can never sort the sequence of events. There are a few key scenes. Otherwise, all I remember are the “repeat” moments. The morning ritual before and after breakfast: Oliver lying on the grass, or by the pool, I sitting at my table. Then the swim or the jog. Then his grabbing a bicycle and riding to see the translator in town. Lunch at the large, shaded dining table in the other garden, or lunch indoors, always a guest or two for lunch drudgery. The afternoon hours, splendid and lush with abundant sun and silence.”
The final chapter is dazzling and sad. It’s easily the most effective portion of the book, and it has been on my mind constantly. How being in love can change the way you see the world. How sometimes being in love is a different world altogether, and afterwards, you get on with life, but life is only a husk of the intensity that you once knew.
“But this thing that never was still beckons, I wanted to tell him. They can never undo it, never unwrite it, never unlive it, or relive it—it’s just stuck there like a vision of fireflies on a summer field toward evening that keeps saying, You could have had this instead. But going back is false. Moving ahead is false. Looking the other way is false. Trying to redress all that is false turns out to be just as false.”
There are some faults. I still cannot quite picture Oliver as a character. He’s frustratingly elusive (though Armie Hammer provides a good visual, thanks to the new film trailer). People will have discourse about the age gap—I have read the book and critically arrived at my own conclusion that the age gap doesn’t matter to me. There is consent throughout their interactions. Elio is intelligent, emotionally mature, precocious. Besides, this is a book about falling in love, being in love, and dealing with the aftermath. It’s not meant to be emulated or glorified. It’s meant to capture a feeling that is seldom describable, something that we all must have felt at some point in our lives, brimming with impulse and luminous hunger for more, more, more. This is one of those books that understands how one experience can change you forever. Impossible, impossible to forget.