There’s something about teenage infatuation. The sweaty palms, the racing heart, the constant mantra ‘do they really like me’? When you have a crush as a teenager your imagination runs wild and the possibilities seem endless. You project your feelings onto the actions of the person you like, imagine that a look or touch or conversation are significant, signs that they feel the same. Some of that excitement carries through into your adult life, but it’s not as all encompassing. Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name is a tender and evocative exploration of one boy’s infatuation and the tentative relationship that grows from it.
Each year, Elio’s parents invite a grad student to spend the summer with them in their picturesque mansion in the Italian Riviera. It’s a routine he has become used to until the summer Oliver arrives, an American scholar who wears brightly coloured swim trunks, dismisses them with ‘later’ and claims to know himself. As the weeks roll lazily by it becomes clear that their attraction is mutual, and their intimacy deepens.
Aciman conveys the turbulence and intensity of being in love as a teenager with ease. Elio’s feelings for Oliver are intertwined with his sense of self-discovery. At times he is elated and hopeful and just as quickly he is filled with emotional angst. Elio and Oliver’s interactions are not straightforward. They dance around each other, tentatively hoping and there is something tantalising about what is unspoken between them. They both know what it is but are reluctant to name it.
From the beginning of the novel, there is a sense that Oliver’s arrival has woken Elio up, not just in terms of his desire, but in terms of who he is as a person, and because his focus has shifted, the world around him is hazy but his self-awareness sharpens.
There were times when I felt the flush of heat run up my neck and I wondered whether I should be reading in private. Call Me By Your Name is sensual and evocative, and the moments between Elio and Oliver are a delight to read. I only wish there were more moments where we got to know them both as individuals, to know who they were outside of this situation. Occasionally it seemed as if Elio’s thoughts were long-winded and not always clear, but on the whole it was a compelling story of love, intimacy and self-realisation.