In mid-January, one of our local theaters screened the film Call Me By Your Name. I knew it was a queer love story starring Armie Hammer and some new kid, but that was about it. I didn’t know there was a novel even. I spent the first half hour of the film skeptical, but I was absolutely in tears by the end of it. I put the novel on my TBR afterward, because I wanted to see how it stacked up against the film—normally, I am a read-the-book person first, but lack of awareness, coupled with an Oscar rush, made me read the book later.
The novel follows the story of Elio, a professors’ son who is 17 and living in an Italian villa. He has friends and has been used to a graduate assistant who lives with the family each summer to help his father categorize research and correspondence and get to work on their own projects. This year, it is Oliver, a New England Jewish man, who is 24. Elio is at first repulsed by him, but he quickly grows to understand that it is not hatred, but desire that fuels him. He spends many weeks of the summer wondering if Oliver returns his affection. The novel is highly interior in its portrayal of Elio’s inner understanding of his sexual identity and Oliver’s. The novel does have the advantage of Elio narrating as a much older person, so it does address the age gap, particularly that Elio pursues Oliver.
While the film moves slowly, it is beautifully shot and acted. The novel reads very slowly, and it becomes hard to remain patient with Elio’s Oliver-driven thoughts (of which there are many). The writing is fine but not extraordinary. I’ll be honest: if you want to read an LGBT coming-of-age story, I recommend Alan Hollinghurst’s work instead.
Cross-posted to my blog.