Tuesday, 31 October 2017

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by Andre Aciman

Well let's file this under DROP EVERYTHING AND START READING THIS.   It's a story about love, and youth, but also - in a complicated way - about age, and loss.  It is on the face of it a tale of a few weeks in the lives of a pair of young lovers, but is somehow also a story about their whole lives, and about how rare happiness is, and how impossible to hold on to. 

At first the enjoyment of the book is in the vivid reconstruction of a teenage crush.  I had forgotten how painful and horrible that experience is, and it makes me glad to be a grown-up.  The crush is conducted in utter secrecy, as this is the mid-eighties in Italy and the pair are both men.  This reminds us that while first love is awful, forbidden first love is far worse.  Elio, the younger of the two, experiences wild excitement and horrible self-consciousness.   Here he is reflecting on something the other man, Oliver, has said to him in passing:
"If not later, when?" What if he had found me out and uncovered each and every one of my secrets with those four cutting words?  I had to let him know I was totally indifferent to him
Oliver returns to America at the end of the summer and eventually we hear he is going to marry. Elio's father comforts him as he tries to deal with this news:
If there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don't snuff it out, don't be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we'd want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything - what a waste!
Elio goes to see Olive many years later, to find the feeling is still alive between them:
.. . we'll speak about two young men who found much happiness for a few weeks and lived the remainder of their lives dipping cotton swabs into that bowl of happiness, fearing they'd use it up, without daring to drink more than a thimbleful on ritual anniversaries
The day I finished the book I went to the cinema to watch the movie.  I just somehow needed to go through it again, and, despite my summary in the first paragraph, I'm still not sure quite what to take from it. I think its something about how happiness is elusive, and to be treasured; I think it's also about death; but I can't quite put it into words.  I see that the author is a noted Proustian scholar, and that doesn't surprise me at all, though I couldn't say why exactly either. Read it and let me know what you think.  

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