Hey guys! So this book. I wasn’t sure if I should review it now or at all or if I should just wait for the movie, but I kinda wanted to gush about it so here this post is. I first heard about this book a few months ago when I saw the trailer for this movie (if you haven’t seen it, you should) and something about the premise really pulled me in! And then I thought I’d go ahead and hunt for this title but couldn’t find any place that sold it for cheap. So then I bought the $18 copy with the movie cover because I found it prettier than the original one
In Call Me By Your Name we have our narrator, Elio, who lives in what I imagine is a summer house (but the book summary says a cliffside mansion on the Italian Riviera) and his parents do this yearly residence for writers. For his 17th summer, they have Olliver, a writer and college professor, over and the two come to be in a complicated relationship filled with passion, guilt, and flirtation
Ok this review is going to be a bit scattered compared to others I write. Also, I’m putting out a SPOILER warning just in case I get excited, but I promise I’ll try to keep the important stuff underwraps!
The story starts out with our narrator, who is looking back to his 17th summer and their summer guest Oliver who had a habit of saying Later!, and a word our narrator seems to dislike because it “sounded harsh, curt, [indifferent] and dismissive”. We’re given the whole background on why Oliver is in Italy with our narrator and his family, and as the story progresses we see how enamoured our narrator’s family and whole town come to be with this American stranger
One of the things I really liked about the book that I noticed pretty quickly is how it doesn’t feel like a “gay novel”. I feel like I’ve been reading yaoi my whole life and in manga there’s always this rule where one of the characters has to be the “girl” and so they have more feminine traits than the other. In novels, while I haven’t read too many, the concept seems to still play a role. In Checking Out Love, our narrator is more nerdy and pretty, and made me automatically think oh that’s the girl in this relationship. In The Uncrossing, it’s even easier to label who the girl in the relationship would be because certain traits are brought to the forefront because of a curse. But in Call Me By Your Name I never feel like that, possibly because the author is male, possibly because the focus was less the gay romance and more the romance in general
I also think that the identity of the narrator being almost a “secret” until later in the book played a role. Since I had already watched the trailer, I knew that our main characters were both guys, but if someone just opens this book with no prior knowledge, our narrator is almost genderless. I feel like it can read as both a male and female up until a certain point, and by then the reader can guess their gender because of the two, only the guy can get hard and has a penis. But it’s not just because we learn until later that our narrator is a teenage boy named Elio that this doesn’t feel like a “gay romance” book, but also because the feelings portrayed are very genderless if that even makes sense
Better stay away from him, I thought. To think that I had almost fallen for the skin of his hands, his chest, his feet that had never touched a rough surface in their existence – and his eyes, which, when their other, kinder gaze fell on you, came like the miracle of the Resurrection. You could never stare long enough but needed to keep staring to find out why you couldn’t.
It’s very simple language but I felt it was very deep in that everyone who has ever loved someone has felt this way. Or at least, I know I have and that made it very real, universal, genderless, and touching. I also found the language to very poetic in a non-poetic kind of way. I loved how we could have 10 sentences all mushed together but because of the beat of the story it never felt like it was a run on. It just felt right to me because don’t we talk like that when we’re passionate about something? Think like that?
It wasn’t just the desire that Elio felt that I felt a connection to. He also has many other feelings, like his restlessness about Oliver not being home on some days and him not coming to eat with them on other nights. His longing to always be with Oliver, to catch his gaze, to make him truly see Elio is something I felt to my core. But it’s not just desire and please look at me, because Elio feels things like guilt at being with a man, to succumbing to his desires. He feels sexual desire for women as well and as we read, we learn that he’s been with girls before, is with a girl now, and is also entranced by the images of Oliver with someone else. And then there are even more obsessive and more dangerous feelings he has for Oliver. And then some of those feelings and desires come to be actions that I would never expect actual couples to do, making this feel more fantasy than reality sometimes. A fantasy that becomes more apparent as summer begins to dwindle and as the years pass
Though I suppose this shouldn’t even read as a gay novel because our characters aren’t gay. If we had to label them, then bisexual would probably fit them but I loved how there were never labels when it came to Elio. To him, attraction was attraction. Something I felt I could relate to
If not later, when?
Very early in the book I knew it was going to break my heart. I was so excited to read a story where it just felt right and that maybe the characters would be happy, but the bittersweet was closing in until I felt almost empty. Sort of like when you want to cry but you just can’t cry anymore, when you just want to scream and cuddle your cinnamon roll because how could this happen to you. And maybe I just didn’t catch it in the first sentences of the book, even the first page after the dedication, but I hoped things would work out. If the language and connection I had with Elio were already making my feels stir, it was nothing compared to the later half of the book where everything was starting to feel less like a fantasy world and more like reality
Overall, I super enjoyed this book and I’m so glad I picked it up. Honestly, I’m thinking it might be up there in my top 10 favorite books, possibly even top 5 (I don’t actually have a list but if I were to make one, that’s where it would end up). I ended up giving this book a 5/5 on Goodreads for a must check this out rating. I am still excited about checking out the movie, which I believe will air somewhere in November, but I am a bit worried. One of the things I felt was strongest about this book is Elio’s thoughts and perspective and in a movie I feel like you can lose that. Still, I’m super curious to see how it’ll be adapted
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If you’ve already read this book, are reading it, or will read it, let me know about it. What did you think?