First love. First awakening. First everything.
When Elio, a young man living in Italy, meets the new arrival to his parent’s home, who open their house to help “young academics revise a manuscript before publication” (p. 4) he hates him. He finds this 24-year-old brash, and standoffish with use of the word, Later! Elio cannot wait for the guy to leave: “Meanwhile, we’d have to put up with him for six long weeks” (p. 4). Despite Elio’s eagerness for this young man to leave, he also finds him alluring.
Elio is recounting his teenage years, when he was 17. He’s looking back on when he first met Oliver, and wonders when he came to form an visceral interest in him: “It might have started right there and then: the shirt, the rolled-up sleeves, the rounded balls of his heels slipping in and out of his frayed espadrilles, eager to test the hot gravel path that led to our house, every stride already asking, Which way to the beach?” (p. 3).
From the first page, I was made aware that the narrator was recounting the first time he met someone special, someone who set him aflame with lust, with longing, with romantic interest. Elio, as a young man, isn’t curious, he’s figuring himself out. Your teenage years are a time in which everything is changing, but also leading up to who you will mature into as an adult. This is precisely what Elio is going through: he knows that he likes boys, he just needs to find the courage within himself to tell Oliver.
I find the passages in which Elio is intimate with Marzia interesting. The fact that he sleeps with Marzia before he sleeps with Oliver doesn’t suggest to me that he’s straight, but rather that he’s experimenting. Elio himself says that he’s trying to rid himself of Oliver: “Perhaps this whole thing with Oliver had been a canicular rut” (p. 118). But in the same breath, he admits, “I knew this feeling wouldn’t last long and that, as with all addictions, it was easy to forswear an addiction immediately after a fix” (p. 118). As much as Elio wishes he could forget Oliver, he knows that his longing for him will return.
Call Me by Your Name is an ode to Elio’s first love, his first lust, his first everything. Once he opens himself up to Oliver–and Oliver opens himself up to Elio–he feels like they are bound not just by sex, but by an emotional transparency as well: “Marzia called that morning while he was about to leave. He almost winked when he handed me the telephone. There was no hint of irony, nothing that didn’t remind me, unless I was mistaken–and I don’t think I was–that what we had between us was the total transparency that exists among friends only. Perhaps we were friends first and lovers second. But then perhaps this is what lovers are” (p. 157). Elio, in this passage, has matured. He’s realizing that two people who are lovers can also be friends to one another, that they can have a tight bond, one that is unique and all their own.
Elio realizes that his bond with Oliver is special, something that he reminisces about throughout the novel. Their closeness is something to be desired, in any relationship.
Elio finds that his first love is one that he cannot escape, one that he cannot get away from, no matter the years or the lovers in between. He longs for Oliver, even years later, recognizing that they “spoke about everything but. But we’ve always known, and not saying anything now confirmed it all the more. We had found the stars, you and I. And this is given only once” (p. 244). Elio knows that their relationship was special, one that can only happen once, a bond that causes you to leave the Earth and float among the stars.
Call Me by Your Name is a heart-wrenching, beautiful novel. It’s one of those books that will stick with you long after you’ve finished reading it. It’s sexy, nerve-wracking, and rewarding. It’s poetic, thought-provoking, and sad at times.
I loved reading this novel. I’m definitely going to miss it. I’m thrilled that there will be a sequel coming about in the fall, titled Find Me. It’s about Elio’s father Samuel, as well as Elio and Oliver’s lives after Call Me by Your Name.