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March 12, 2018 | by  | in Arts Books |
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Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

Call Me By Your Name is currently breaking the hearts of movie-goers around the world, including mine, so I decided to extend my agony and heartache by reading the 2007 novel by Egyptian author André Aciman that the film is based on.

The world within Call Me By Your Name exists within a pocket of ambiguous time and space, as the entire plot takes place within a six week period in summer at some point in the 1980s and in an unknown town in Italy. Within it is 17 year old Elio, and the novel follows his journey of self discovery that is full of obsession, lust, love, and heartache over Oliver, the 24 year old graduate student who stays with Elio’s family during this timeless summer.

The highlight of the novel is the setting constructed around Elio and Oliver. The Italian summer seems like an idyllic dream, and Aciman constructs a rich and beautiful vision of a rural life in Italy. From small piazzas, to Rome’s cathedrals, to the coffee shops and the secret riverbed hideaways, the world within the novel feels expansive, vibrant, and alive.

At the heart of Call Me By Your Name is the emotional connection between the two characters, as the majority of the narrative is dominated, and progresses, through Elio’s bouts of intense feelings of lust, love, hatred, anxiety, denial, and sadness over Oliver. However, there is arguably too many emotions. The novel follows an endless repetitive cycle of Elio expressing his feelings, then his interpretation of Oliver’s feelings, then a re-interpretation of both of their feelings and on and on and on. This feature makes the novel quite difficult to read, and my annoyance with it did not abate as I read through it.

This same feature also makes Elio and Oliver difficult characters to like. While you want them to get together, their insistent emotional anxiety and drama around each other becomes tedious after a while. By the end of section one, it’s like… “come on lads, stop brooding and just bloody get on with it…”.

But when they finally do get on with it, it is magical. But then it ends, and the world crumbles, and you have to take a time out to recover. Call Me By Your Name is an emotional rollercoaster, and I quite enjoyed reading it, but I doubt I will want to read it again any time soon.

It is also with a heavy heart that I have to say that the film is better than the book. While both the novel and film equally capture the picturesque beauty of Italy and the intensity of the relationship between Elio and Oliver, the film (because of the format) is able to remove the repetitive narrative style that dominates the novel, making the characters far more likeable and their story more compelling and emotional.

My expectations were perhaps too high for the book because I loved the film so much, so it fell short and I was disappointed. I recommend reading the book first if you have not seen the film yet, because your expectations will be low to begin with and then blown away by the film.

You also get to look at Armie Hammer and Timotheé Chalamet for two hours as a bonus, and I do not know anyone in their right mind who would complain about that.

And never fear, Aciman and director Luca Guadagnino are working on one (and possibly two) sequels together, so there is more heartache and sadness to come.

Oh and by the way, in the copy of the film tie-in version that you can get from BookDepository for $12, the peach scene is on page 146.

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