This is the most romantic book I have read in a long time. Maybe ever.
It’s also the sexiest. Hubba, hubba.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit just how much it all held my attention. I found myself both anxious to turn the page to find out what happened next and reluctant to move on because what was written was so intense I didn’t want to leave it. How many books make you want to read them both quickly and slowly at the same time?
Once it’s gone, once it’s happened, once it’s been read, you can’t go back, you can’t read it again for the first time.
Which is one thing Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman gets very right about the passion and longing of first love.
Call Me By Your Name is about Elio, the precocious 17-year-old son of university professors who lend out their home each summer to a promising post-graduate. One summer in the mid-1980’s, Oliver, a dashing American post-doc working on a book about Heraclitus arrives and immediately becomes Elio’s obsession, his first with a man.
It’s not an unusual subject for literary fiction, a summer love affair on the Italian coast. It’s basically a cliché by now isn’t it, a cliche for the NPR set. Fans of E.M. Forster will feel right at home. But Mr. Aciman is willing to take his narrative to places Mr. Forster never could. You have been warned.
The events of the novel are not extraordinary, just the sorts of things one would do while staying the summer in a small Italian town: bicycle rides to the beach, nights at bookstore readings in the shop on the square, dinners with other guests. What moves the novel along, what makes the reader both want to turn the page and to stay on the page is the novel’s emotional intensity, the longing Elio feels for Oliver, the intensity of their contact when it finally comes, even the briefest kiss had me gripping the pages like I imagine fans of Romance novels do when they get to the good parts.
While there are several very erotic scenes, the bit with the peach will live in infamy, the moments that stayed with both Elio and with me were made intense by circumstances and by emotion. That kiss in Rome where Oliver pushed him against the wall of a side street and let their legs intertwine on their last night together. The first time Oliver’s bare foot touched Elio’s under the table at an afternoon lunch.
Hubba, hubba, as they say.
I don’t think it spoils anything to discuss the ending; we all know how summer romances end, don’t we. Autumn comes. We separate and we grow older. Which is what happens here. No one has to die at the hands of a homophobe. One gets married. One has a romantic life that remains vague. There is some regret but no tragic betrayal, no intense rekindling of passion. Just two men who have grown older.
I loved it all. I’m a little sorry I stayed up so late reading it so quickly.
It’s my new favorite book.