Call Me By Your Name – Poetry dressed as a novel

With the release of the film starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet a few months ago, which was met with critical acclaim, it seems everyone has swarmed around this book ever since. And what better way to break my 2 month hiatus than to get myself a piece of this book. (Thanks to MrsNightRead for lending me her much loved, highlighted and labelled copy.)


A basic synopsis then. Elio is seventeen, and lives on the Italian Riviera with his family, where they host a summer guest for a few weeks every year. This year, it’s twenty-four year old American, Oliver. And in just six weeks, the pair share an all-encompassing summer romance of such intensity and magnitude, that the ripples are felt even two decades later.

So, what did I think of it? That actually isn’t the easiest question to answer. From the positive ravings that seem to be everywhere in its wake, I actually thought I’d love Call Me By Your Name more than I did.

I should explain.

The narration and the writing style is poetic, like an art form all of its own. There were some gorgeous moments in the narration, but sometimes that also made it a challenging read, with long, meandering sentences that took some brain power to follow. Poetics in narrating a story is often something lost on me, I have to admit, but even I was captured by some of the beautiful prose. And I loved the way it would flip-flop between complex poetics and more simple, naturalistic narration, more typical of real thought processes.

But when the poetic nature of the writing wasn’t getting in my way, some of that raw emotional material really struck a chord with me. In particular the last 80-90 pages I found deeply moving, not in a way that produced tears, but a great emotional response in my core… (now who’s being poetic)? That’s the thing that I felt most connected to in Call Me By Your Name: the emotions. There were plenty of times when I struggled to connect with the characters and their actions, for various reasons, but the emotional charge is present throughout the entire story. This book pulls no punches – not in its explicitness, nor in its brutal honesty of emotion – and I think that’s what makes it such a bold, commendable work. It makes you really feel. As in the Tatler review on the blurb: “Evocative, poetic and deeply beautiful… will strike a chord with those falling in love for the first time (or out of love for the last time).”

I did, however, struggle with some of the more poetic moments in the action of the story. Sometimes they were present in Elio’s view on the world, and these moments were easier to swallow as I could attribute them to his character, and his often abstract way of thinking. But sometimes these moments were action between Elio and Oliver, and the poetics just got lost somewhere in the strangeness of it, for me. Again, poetry isn’t really my thing, but the whole idea of “Call me by your name,” and the peach scene (gods be good, the peach scene!), and various intimate moments between Oliver and Elio I found alienating more than anything, just by their strangeness.

So you see, I’m struggling to decide what I thought of it in the end. And I do still want to watch the film, to see how that compares. It affected me, and I did like it, but whether I would say I truly enjoyed reading it, I’m not so sure.

Author: camillehatcher

Bookworm, film fanatic, quote master, and apprentice wordsmith.

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