Day 343: 12.09.2017
“Call Me By Your Name” by Andre Aciman – 5/5 stars
Total intimacy that transcends time. Narrative is rich, raw, and contemplative. What an experience reading this story. (Goodreads review, December 9, 2017)
What an experience indeed.
I cannot exactly pin-point what makes this book so magnanimous for me. It’s possible that I read this story on a cusp of thirst for novels again, the characters are gay (and that’s already plus points), or…I’m not sure really.
Most of my friends do not appreciate the narrative because the point of view is unreliable, the vocabulary is heavy, the references are academic and literary (too much at times!), and the sentences are running a mile long before the period. But I love it all the same.
I’m nowhere near the author’s caliber in writing, but my writing style is somewhat similar, with sentences spliced with dashes, commas, or semicolons, and the period is always a distant, unwanted relative.
Anyway, I’m always equally entertained and scandalized by Elio’s thoughts about Oliver. He talks to the reader as if confessing one’s most vivid, raw, and even dark passions and desires to a journal/diary, so it’s definitely a privilege to be given such permission to read (quite literally) into the heart of a person. Elio is already in his older years when he tells the story, so as he hops back in time, he is reflective of his actions and thoughts about the experiences and awakenings taking place in his life of that summer when he was 17 and the role Oliver has in it.
The title carries the theme of “total intimacy” which I first encountered in this book. Intimacy is relative to each person who experience it, and I dare say the meaning could be different for each person we share it with, but the meaning of total intimacy based on this book (as I understood it) is by mirroring someone physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Elio and Oliver have the same interest in history, literature, culture, and music; they are in love with each other, but they don’t put a label to sexuality as they are also sexually attracted to women; they are both Jews; and they become one physically through sex. They call each other using the name of the other (hey! Title!) when they are alone, when they are most open to each other. There’s a scene wherein Oliver drank Elio’s eherm saying that since it’s a part of Elio, he wants to have it. There’s also a scene where I’m not sure if it was Elio or Oliver who were taking a dump and the other wanted to be in the same room. Like that is gross and embarrassing even between spouses, but the point is that they didn’t want to leave anything kept between them–even the most shameful act is shared or experienced as one. In Rome, as Elio joins with Oliver’s friends, eating and drinking (even when he’s only 17) and discussing what they ought to discuss with Oliver only (if he was absent), Elio experienced the same. He was Oliver, as Oliver was Elio at that Summer of 1983 in Rome.
The most gripping part is of course when they needed to part. Both of them knew that their relationship was on borrowed time. Somehow, they both understood that after summer is over, they can never have the same thing back. That they had that one summer and all the memories and emotions in that one summer of 1983. So when Elio confirms that things were distant after (Oliver with a family and him continuing to university) and in many years he avoided being in the same room as him, physically, Elio also confesses that there are bouts of longing in the span of 15 years until he had the courage to finally see Oliver nearing his 40s. I think this is the part when I needed to put down the book for a while to breathe because I’m a sucker for people who can love that long and the thoughts of many grey areas produced because of that summer. Although Oliver is a desire that Elio was able to realize, it burned him so deep that he was probably charred, but all the same that left a passion lit even when Oliver left.
It seems there’s a lot of what ifs for Elio and I ache for him, even when he reminds me as well that it is a bitter part of reality: that you can never take back what time has already taken. He talks of lovers he categorized as pre-Oliver and post-Oliver which tells us how keen he was of Oliver, the only one he has been totally intimate with, and confesses that it remains only Oliver who shares that with him.
The ending is actually a happy one with Oliver and Elio going back to the Italian mansion as they promised 20 years after, and Oliver admitting to Elio (he was scared of this!) that he remembers everything. As Elio is an unreliable narrator, Oliver could be hinting that he feels exactly the same as Elio, longing and carrying that feeling, but of course we’ll never know for sure. They have the memories, the experience together, and that’s all that matters.
Haaaay. Well, after all that yapping I still cannot coherently construct my love for this book. I’m thinking of re-reading it just for the experience again, or well, to see if it will still be the same? Let’s see.