Publisher: Atlantic Books.
Call Me By Your Name (2007) follows the life of Elio, a 17-year-old Jewish boy who lives with his parents in Italy. Every summer, a writer or academic stays with them in their house to complete a manuscript or project. On this particular summer, a 24-year old Jewish writer named Oliver comes to stay, and Elio’s sexual awakening is thus explored.
This is one of the most sensuous books I’ve ever read. The writing was affecting, windswept, and deeply erotic at times. As a teenager who’s sexuality is suddenly awakened by the visiting Oliver, Elio’s inner thoughts are obsessed with people’s bodies, his sexual urges, and the lust he feels towards Oliver. There was a lot of introspection, which at times dragged the narrative and made it feel suffocating, but it also allowed the reader to understand Elio’s sexual frustrations and his desire to be with Oliver.
The men’s romance and sexual affair are extremely passionate. The story is presented like a honeymoon in an Italian paradise – warm seas, blue sky, sandy beaches, good food and wine. Although taking place across a short time period, the story feels like that of an endless summer and the romance affects Elio, changing his whole life. Arguably, the fact that is was a short romantic affair was more powerful than if the men had ended up together.
The novel also explores the nature of the expatriate. Oliver, among the other summer visitors, come to Italy to finish their work and meet other scholars and academics in Elio’s hometown in Italy. There are many discussions between characters about music, academia, literature, art, and philosophy. The characters swap ideas and perspectives on life, the most interesting is when the poet describes his poem “San Clemente Syndrome” and talks about his time in Bangkok where he was met with culture shock, found himself entranced with Thai people, and learned of his love for Rome, his hometown. I found these passages quite interesting as a lot of Europeans and Americans have travelled to Thailand for holidays and would be expatriates of Thailand. The perspective on cross-cultural meetings was realistic and interesting, providing a commentary on respecting culture while being intrigued by it.
Overall, it was a dreamy, sensual novel that explored a passionate romance over one summer in a scenic Italian town.