Set across one long, languorous, Italian summer, Call Me By Your Name tells the story of seventeen-year-old Elio, the son of American-Italian academics, who falls madly, passionately, and obsessively, in love. The object of his desire, the twenty-three-year-old Oliver, is the latest in a succession of summer residents who come each summer to assist Elio’s father with his work. Usually, the houseguests are considered a bore by Elio, who is made to give up his bedroom to them, but upon arrival, Oliver is noted as something apart, with ‘his heels slipping in and out of his frayed espadrilles’ and his casual shout of ‘Later!’ whenever he takes his leave of the family. Elio says it is a ‘chilling slam-dunk salutation that shoved aside all our honeyed European niceties’.
The beauty of this book lies not so much with complexity of plot as the storyline is relatively simple, but with the powerful depiction of what it is to experience all-encompassing love, not knowing whether those feelings are returned. Through Elio’s first-person narrative, Aciman leads us into every torturous nuance of Elio’s journey. And wrapped around that journey is Aciman’s masterful depiction of the Italian summer – he captures not only the heat (as Fitzgerald does with his dripping glasses of Mint Julips) but the unique light of Italy, dappled through the trees, the sun glinting on the pool, the sun-kissed back of Oliver as he lays in the garden. Aciman gives the reader the chance to touch the beauty of Italy from their armchair.
Call Me By Your Name was written in 2007 and was Aciman’s debut novel. It was made into a film, directed by Luca Guadagnino, which was released in 2017, significantly raising the profile of the novel and bringing it to new audiences. Aciman has announced a sequel to the book, for publication in Autumn 2019.
How does the book use the relationships between the characters to examine different aspects of love – such as passion, loyalty, trust and jealousy?
How is the contrast between the American way of life and the Italian way of life embodied in the storyline and why do you think the writer chose this family structure?
What do you think is the significance of the phrase ‘Call me by your name’ that Elio and Oliver repeat to each other?
Discuss the role that courage plays in the narrative.
The affairs of the world are largely absent from the book, giving it an almost timeless element. Why do you think Aciman chose to write it in this way?
If the book were set in modern times, do you think the difficulties Elio and Oliver face would be different?
What did you think of the ending of the book? Did you want it to end in a different way?
The screen adaptation of Call Me By Your Name ends at the point at which Oliver leaves Italy, after which he never returns and calls Elio to tell him of his engagement. Why do you think that might be? Call-Me-By-Your-Name-Discussion-Questions.pdf
After several agonising months of platonic friendship, Elio only manages to show his feelings to Oliver in the last few weeks of Oliver’s stay, and when they finally make love they both regret how they have misunderstood each other and how little time they now have left together. Elio accompanies Oliver to Rome, where they spend three days together as lovers. After this, Oliver returns home – as Elio finds out later – to his fiancé. Elio and Oliver meet up again many years later but the reunion is bittersweet for the reader: Oliver has had what appears to be a happy and fulfilled family life whilst Elio has never found a love that came close to what he felt for Oliver. He is still uncertain what he meant to Oliver. He wants to tell Oliver before they part for the second time that, if he feels the same way, to look him in the eye and ‘Call me by your name.’
The film rights for the book were optioned in 2007, the same year the book was published, but the screen adaptation by Luca Guadagnino was not ready for release until 2017. Guadagnino was originally employed by the producers as a location scout, but later became co-director and then, when James Ivory dropped out of the project, became the director.