André Aciman’s ‘Call Me By Your Name’ paved the way for queer literature when it was first published in 2007. After the movie adaptation by Luca Guadagnino in 2017, the book gained more popularity than ever before due to its majestic cinematography and realistic capture of the story itself. The setting of the 1980’s Italian summer and the passionate romance between a youth and a man were few of the many things that caught the attention of young readers and critics.
Set in Southern Italy in the year 1987, Elio’s parents were professors who host doctorate students during the summer and guide them in their academic manuscripts. Since Elio was the only child, he would join the adults in their discussions. This would be a catalyst for his relationship with Oliver, a 24-year-old American. Elio’s family took in Oliver in that summer. Elio did not like his bright and outgoing personality because of how insensitive he appeared outside. And this would be the spark for Elio’s interest and feelings. For example, whenever Oliver said ‘later’ to bid goodbye, it frustrated Elio because of how nonchalant he was to everyone. And everyone liked it, even his parents.
In the first few weeks, Elio was hesitant and observant in his interactions with Oliver. But as soon as Oliver started to have physical contact with him, Elio accepted his bisexuality. He also couldn’t deny the sexual attraction of Oliver. Oliver returned his mutual feeling towards Elio. And they both embraced each other intimately and romantically. However, Oliver was cautious and ashamed of it at first.
In the climax of their relationship, Elio penetrated a fruit as an analogy of unity in body and soul, on which André Aciman received much criticism and praise. Both of them spent their remaining days in Rome, a courtesy of Elio’s father who was well aware of Elio’s feeling towards Oliver. Both of them travelled and ravished in the delights of their friends there and the nightlife of Rome. A year after Oliver’s departure, news of him and his newlywed wife came to Elio and crushed him.
In the epilogue, twenty years later, Elio was well in his thirties. There was a reunion with Oliver in the US. Oliver then invited Elio to meet his wife and kids. But Elio declined. It was heart-wrenching for him to see them. So they spent their time catching up with one another at a hotel bar. The story came to an end when Oliver finally told Elio that he missed their time back then which made Elio wistfully hoping Oliver to call him by his name, as a symbol for him to profess his love again as they did before.
Thoughts and Reflections
The turmoil of romance and accepting oneself was picturesque in the novel through the eyes of a young man that had yet to experience life. Although the novel was centered between two guys, the provocative way of how Oliver’s soul was written in detail was more than just mutual sexual attraction. It was because of the two mere souls being attracted to each other through intellect and chemistry that the attraction was undeniably strong to begin with. Erotica was meant to be written in a rather brute manner of detailed actions and repeated sequence. However, André Aciman wrote it with a careful manner and a raw intimacy that demonstrated not just between the two guys.
Following the historical and societal background of the timeline the novel was set in, it was realistic that their love was forbidden from the start. And hence, Oliver’s departure was inevitable and emotional to both Elio and the readers.
Written by Grace Leong