When I was reading reviews for André Aciman’s most famous novel, a flash of fear ran through me: did I read a different book? Did someone somehow sell me the cover of Call Me By Your Name with an entirely different novel inside?
Surely I can’t be the only one who really didn’t enjoy this book!
Let me reassure you, I am not the only one who thinks this novel is overrated. However, this is a very unpopular opinion. Today I’ll explain to you just why I think Call Me By Your Name is overrated. Please, don’t boo me off stage just yet…
Now, let’s get one thing straight: this isn’t, by any means, a bad book. Maybe it’s just not to my taste. That could definitely be it. However, I was so ready for this book to be amazing, and it just wasn’t as great as I was told it would be. I actually found it quite difficult to find any reviews I agree with, so today I decided to voice the opinion of the minority:
Call Me By Your Name is overrated.
Let’s take a look…
Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.
The psychological maneuvers that accompany attraction have seldom been more shrewdly captured than in André Aciman’s frank, unsentimental, heartrending elegy to human passion. Call Me by Your Name is clear-eyed, bare-knuckled, and ultimately unforgettable.
Firstly, I found the first half of this novel to be a slog. It just dragged so much, and I found it so tedious to read. I wasn’t expecting to be thrown straight into a first-person perspective – and a tediously existential and over-thinking one at that – but there I was trying to invest myself in a plot described by a character who, frankly, seemed to avoid describing what was actually going on. Instead, we had a wounded puppy of a novel, a 17-year-old boy fixated on an older man, his narrative a monotonous stream of consciousness – does he feel the same? Is he avoiding me? Does he only wear blue shorts when he’s in a bad mood?
I’m sorry, Elio, but I don’t care. You didn’t make me care.
Frankly, Elio – the narrator and protagonist – is an extremely dislikable character. Not only is he whiny and boring, but his treatment of the female characters in this novel was just plainly offensive. What’s more, on occasions, I could tell Aciman was trying to craft quite a ‘profound’ novel. Certainly, this novel is rich in literary and art references, and some beautifully poetic passages of prose with lavish imagery. If done well, this could have brought the story to life. And yet instead, the novel was dulled, and these allusions and consistent discussions of art actually created a certain kind of disconnect between the narrator and the author. It didn’t make for a ‘profound’ novel, it made for a lacklustre storyline with lacklustre characters, characters that were barely developed from beginning to end.
So, at this point, I am neither invested in the plot, nor am I invested in the characters. Not a great start…
As the novel progressed, I became more interested and the pace picked up. Things actually started happening. However, as we reached the half-way mark, we ran into some more issues.
In my opinion, there’s a difference between being artfully liberal, remarkably candid, and being crude. Certain events in this novel were crude and actually quite uncomfortable to read. Without spoiling this novel for anyone, my issues lie mainly with:
- A certain scene about a peach
- The quite invasive tendencies our protagonist had (…the swimming shorts scene)
Some things are just downright creepy and should not be romanticized. I was very disappointed to see that Aciman did exactly that. Now, I understand that there’s an interesting premise that underpins this entire novel, an intriguing philosophical thought: is love and infatuation a desire to have someone, or to be them? However, just like there’s a difference between being liberal and being crude, there’s a difference between infatuation and a worryingly-invasive obsession.
Yet I persisted. I carried on with this novel, and the last third wasn’t all that bad. I enjoyed it much more, and decided that this book wasn’t so awful after all – in terms of engagement and the plot, anyway. I still have my issues with the characters. Mainly Elio.
Unfortunately, Elio at the end was the mirror image of Elio at the beginning, despite there being a 20-year gap. 20 years! And yet he hasn’t matured at all!
That’s just annoying.
(more like 2.5 stars, but alas, I cannot find a half-star anywhere…)