The 2017 movie adaptation of this book starring Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer had a limited release in this country yet caused a considerable stir. It appeared on many discerning end of year Best Movie lists and The Guardian had it at the very top as the Best Film of 2017. Nominated for Golden Globes and also for four Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Original Song and Best Adapted Screenplay categories. This film was unfortunately deemed too uncommercial for my local Cine-Plex and so I will have to wait patiently for the DVD release scheduled for March.
The film version was written by James Ivory, who with Ismail Merchant has been responsible for some of my favourite films of all time (especially “Room With A View”) and is an adaptation of the 2007 debut novel by Egyptian born, US resident since the late 1960’s Andre Aciman. After publishing a number of non-fiction works Aciman put this out as his first novel. There have been three more since. The book has been reprinted as a film tie-in and on a recent visit to Foyles’ main bookshop in London I saw they had it as their number one book. To fill the gap until the DVD is released I wanted to know what the fuss is all about.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that it doesn’t seem to be an obvious candidate for a movie. Set mainly in one Italian summer in the mid 1980’s it is a quiet, introspective novel, the tale of a relationship and very little else. Seventeen year old Elio’s Professor father invites a twenty-four year old American academic to spend the summer with them in order to finish his manuscript. Elio comes from an intellectual family who seem to spark by having a studious house guest each year. For Elio it just means giving up his bedroom until the sparks certainly start igniting when he meets Oliver.
Narrated by the younger man this is an undeniably intense examination of the minutiae of first love and lust with it building into obsession. Elio narrates with such soul-bearing honesty that it’s almost like having an exposed nerve in a tooth to read it. The introspection feels like writing from an earlier era, at times it even recalled Henry James, but unlike what I remember of James’ writing (it has been some time) the plot does move along, even if at the languid pace of an Italian summer. I appreciate that this book is not going to appeal to everybody but I cannot recall reading a book where the relationship of one same-sex couple is exposed to such minute details. The uncertainty, the shyness and the all-encompassing nature of this first love is conveyed quite brilliantly, and often very poetically. When other characters are moved more central stage as they are in a section in Rome towards the end the power of the novel is almost instantly defused.
At times I did feel like bashing the two main character’s heads together but I cannot deny the power of the writing. I’m even more fascinated now to see the film version.
I read the Atlantic paperback version of “Call Me By Your Name” It was first published in 2007 in the US, 2008 in the UK.
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