One hour, Elio is on cloud nine – eying the stranger’s shadow from his French window, eagerly awaiting for whatever is either going to destroy his life, or redeem it. The next, he’s in a place of torment. His conscious is filled with shame and self-disgust and he doesn’t understand how he can even allow himself for having these feelings. This is just one of the many rollercoaster-emotions that André Aciman’s main character; Elio has to go through in the duration of Oliver’s summer-stay in his parents Italian residence. But do we ever get to the bottom of his frustration? Is there any closure between them? Are the feelings reciprocated or was it all just a strange illusion of a dream?
These were my questions ten pages into the book. I was hooked, frantic, steamed up. I had to find out how all this would end. Yet, to my astonishing surprise … the further I came to the finish-line, the more I found myself lost in confusion. And towards the last paragraph, nothing. They had shared their love and intimacy alright. Years had passed. Wounds had healed. They met again. But wasn’t there even a dramatic declaration in the end? A solid denouement that would put both their agonies at peace?
In order to resolve my inner conflict, I decided I had to make a review on this book. It’s the only way possible for me to pick up the pieces, investigate the area and glue them back together again. So let’s just get on with it!
Beginning, middle and end
The beginning is narrated with a firm directness. It is clear for everyone that the author does not care to mystify Elio’s enchantments for his father’s new student. In other words, no slow introduction. No beating around the bush:
“Later!” The word, the voice, the attitude. I’d never heard anyone use “later” to say goodbye before. It sounded harsh, curt. and dismissive, spoken with the veiled indifference of people who may not care to see or hear from you again. It is the first thing I remember about him, and I can hear it still today. Later! I shut my eyes, say the word, and I’m back in Italy, so many years ago, walking down the tree-lined driveway, watching him step out of the cab, billowy blue shirt, wide open collar, sunglasses, straw hat, skin everywhere. Suddenly he’s shaking my hand, handing me his backpack, removing his suitcase from the trunk of the cab, asking if my father is home.
It might have started right there and then.
I think what the author is trying tell you (the reader) by these opening lines, is merely this: The story is all about the analysis of one person; Oliver. From beginning to end. How he is, how he behaves, how his every move, word and encounter is analysed and observed through the eyes of Elio. It’s all about Elio’s perception of Oliver; a recurrent theme which never changes throughout the course of the novel.
Middle: They are still walking around in the beautiful casa, reading, transcribing music, writing on manuscripts, swimming, casually chatting about philosophers and musicians, reciting their words – everything is normal. Yet, so much is different. They have been taking trips together to the lake. Elio has been showing him around. An innocent eye-contact has turned into a passionate kiss on the beach. A modest “care to join me to town” has turned into “We shouldn’t go further than this…”. What are they doing now, and how are they going to put an end to their mutual attraction?
Before I dive into my analysis on the subject – Elio is perfectly aware of his parents liberal world-view. He knows that they would have nothing against him forming an attachment with another man. As a matter of fact, they seem to like Oliver very much, and they are constantly encouraging their son to spend more time with him. Yet, Elio himself cannot help but see the shamefulness and pure distaste in the feelings he’s having. He wants him, yet he doesn’t. He feels a huge disappointment every time he doesn’t meet up for dinner, but he also loves Marcia’s (his girlfriend at the time) smell, her smile, her lips. One day, he only wants to be with her. The other, with Oliver. Does he ever make up his mind? Is it women or men that he’s attracted to? Maybe both? Still, I’m confused, but – I’m only in the middle of the book, after all …
Ending: These conflicting feelings seem to dissolve a bit towards the end, when the reader realises that it is only Oliver, Elio wants. Perhaps he was just trying to persuade his own mind to want Marcia this whole time. And by the time they go to Rome together – alone, he’s given up everything called shame and remorse. It is Oliver he likes to be with, hold hands with, sleep next to. In a way, it’s nowhere near a normal kind of love. Elio loves Oliver because Oliver is just like Elio. In a way, when looking at Oliver, he feels as though he’s looking at himself. Was it the love for himself that he was experiencing this whole time? Had it noting to do with Oliver, but everything to do with himself?
“… it would finally dawn on us both that he was more me than I had ever been myself, because when he became me and I became him in bed so many years ago, he was and would forever remain, long after every forked road in life had done its work, my brother, my friend, my father, my son, my husband, my lover, myself.”
I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of what this actually means, but my ultimate conclusion is that Elio was looking for himself during his 17th year (which isn’t an unfamiliar thing, considering that it happens to most kids that age) – and found who he wanted to be, through Oliver. In other words, the discovery of himself must have been a feeling so strong, that it was (perhaps) mistaken for being love. Now, I’m sure they were attracted to each other and the interest was definitely there – however, it’s not an abnormal thing that teenagers feel love much more strongly than most grownups. It’s because they’re encountering a very impressionable age; they have not yet found their purpose in life and they’re confused about their own values and principles. And when they meet this one person (in this case, Oliver) who makes them think; That’s who I want to be! – then of course, they’ll end up admiring this possible version of themselves so much that they’ll eventually become crazy in love! (or think, they have become crazy in love) Which is what I suspect, happened to Elio.
Towards the ending, the story fast-forwards twenty years into the future, and by then, Oliver is already married and settled. They meet again, they share their memories, but strangely enough, they don’t go back to where they initially were. In fact, they even hesitate to talk about it. Suddenly, it seems like their fling during the summer was just a dream within a dream – something which had happened in their minds, but not taken place in reality. I don’t know the actual truth. But the ending goes like this:
“He looked at me and smiled. It cheered me. Perhaps because I knew he was taunting me. Twenty years was yesterday, and yesterday was earlier this morning, and morning seemed light-years away. “I’m like you” he said. “I remember everything.” I stopped for a second. If you remember everything, I wanted to say, and if you are really like me, then before you leave tomorrow, or when you’re just ready to shut the door of the taxi and have already said goodbye to everyone else and theres not a thing left to say in this life, then, just this once, turn to me, even in jest, or as an afterthought, which would have meant everything to me when we were together, and, as you did back then, look me in the face, hold my gaze, and call me by your name.”
Elio remembered everything. But do we ever really get to know Oliver’s point of view? No. We don’t. So wether or not this was an imagined dream, we can never know. Perhaps in the continuation – if there is going to be one …?
First person; Elio. Narrative.
I like the author’s voice. The words, the obvious, yet exceptionally vague undertone in every sentence makes you so hooked that in the end, you find yourself enslaved to the book – need to read it all the time, you need to repeat every sentence in your head at least twice – because the prose is so subtle and poetic. No complains about the prose. The author handles it very well, and I respect him a great deal for that.
Romance and internal conflict are the two things that come into my head, at once. But then theres also a lot of fine prose in there too … hmmm … I think I would go for … A psychological romance in the form of a beautiful prose.
I must admit, even though I fell in love with this book – there was something which I feel could have been left out; The sex-scenes. Don’t get me wrong. Erotism can be very exiting in a novel. It usually spices things up a notch and gets the reader even more hooked to the story. However, when reading this book, I felt that the love between them was so strong, passionate and confusing ALREADY – so the sex-scenes ended up becoming superfluous. Also, I think the story would’ve been much more mysterious, complex and romantic if they had never shared anything intimately. A whole, undiscovered world would’ve stayed in Elio’s imagination. There would’ve been a sincere, platonic love between them – something which is, in my opinion, the most romantic feeling of them all! At the same time, I feel like the ending reveals that there was in fact, first and foremost, a major admiration that Elio had for Oliver. It wasn’t sexual at all. In other words, it wasn’t eros, but … pure, legitimate, unconditional love. Like a brother to a brother, a mother to a child, a father to a son. If it were me, I wouldn’t have included a sex-scene. Maybe, only maybe … a kiss, but nothing more. Mysticism is always great!
Anyone. No matter the age group. But maybe especially teenagers and people in their early 20s …
Had it not been for the sex-scenes (which were very well written, but I feel like it interrupted the plot) I would’ve given this book a 6, without hesitation. Because I love the prose and I love the confusing open-to-interpretation-ending. But .. sadly, I have to be true to myself. I give it a 5.
Hope you enjoyed my review, and comment down below if you would like to add your opinion♥
Aftur S. Nerdrum