Review by Anna Hollingsworth
There are two kinds of novels to which I don’t want to see a sequel. There are, of course, the literary nightmares that I pray I won’t have to revisit and that shouldn’t have come into existence in the first place. Then there are the very special books that I hold holy: these are the stories so special that I couldn’t bear them being spoilt by a mundane part two.
André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name falls under the latter type. It chronicles the fragile romance between Elio, a 17-year-old intellectually precocious American-Italian, and Oliver, an American scholar who is chosen to spend the summer as one of Elio’s parents’ annual academic house guests. The reader is drawn in to bask in the golden light of an Italian summer, revelling in a lush bohemian lifestyle where academia and the arts meet. The end is bittersweet: having found near-clichéd true love in each other, Oliver has to return to America and marry his fiancée.
It’s no wonder that fans of the couple could not accept that as the definite endpoint to the men’s story. I could imagine the squeals of delight as the news broke that Aciman was working on more; personally, I recoiled in fear of potential blasphemy. However, I was wrong. Find Me recreates the magic circle of Call Me by Your Name in a bitterly beautiful way.
Find Me is built of four parts, each set some years ahead of the previous one, tracking the lives of three characters from Call Me By Your Name. Those waiting to see Elio and Oliver’s paths cross again — whether or not that happens, I won’t say — will be surprised to find themselves in the company of Samuel, Elio’s father, at the start of the book. In the first part of the novel, Samuel strikes up a conversation with twenty-something Miranda on a train from Florence to Rome. He is to meet Elio to perform their ritual of vigils — walking through the streets of the ancient city and remembering the events and people that made them special — and she is to spend the weekend with her terminally ill father. Instead of parting ways at arrival in Rome, however, the strangers on the train discover soul-mates in each other, and embark upon an unlikely relationship, both baring the scars of their pasts.
The second part mirrors the unlikely consequences of random meetings, this time for Elio, who now teaches and performs music in Paris. After an older gentleman Michel invites Elio for dinner at a church concert, awkward silences, shyness and blushes slowly give way to a relationship that becomes especially meaningful to both. Their time together is marked by rare sincerity, like Samuel and Miranda’s, but also a profound sense of longing for something, or someone, else.
The longing carries onto the third part, that of Oliver. Set during a farewell party to mark the end of Oliver’s time in New York as a visiting academic and imminent return, with wife Micol, to the sleepiness of New Hampshire, it is filled with the kind of reflection you find at big turning points in life. Alongside the more profound thoughts, Oliver entertains phantasies of Erica and Paul, two acquaintances he has managed to lure to his party with a hope of a closer physical connection.
A more lewd person might describe the novel as a romp through three cities, and objectively speaking, they wouldn’t be wrong. Just like Call Me by Your Name teems with lust, sexuality and some scenes that don’t shy away from detailed descriptions — I didn’t eat peaches for several months after reading it — Find Me does so as well. Just like its predecessor, however, it does so in a gloriously musical way that raises it above the kind of mindless explicitness that it could so easily sink to. The narrative has a melodic quality to it: long, flowing musings are interrupted with staccatos of perceptive dialogue. The musical quality is made even more explicit asthe whole novel is constructed as a piece of music, with the sections named Tempo, Cadenza, Capriccio and Da Capo, reflecting the nature of each. Aciman’s writing alone is enough to draw the reader back into the magic circle.
With sequels, there is always a risk of repeating too much of the original. But while Find Me definitely explores the same major theme as Call Me by Your Name — Elio and Oliver — it presents a refreshingly new variation of it. Reading Call Me by Your Name, I was always struck by the raw honesty and love in the relationship between Elio and his parents, especially his father. This remained much in the background, but Find Me brings it to the forefront and it is first and foremost a novel about fathers and sons. The older Eliot and Samuel are even more honest with each other, their vigils diving into their past romances of both father and son. It’s not only them, though: Michel brings with him a side plot about his own father’s past as well as a story about his estranged son, while Samuel and Oliver’s friendship receives new depths that remained hidden in the first novel.
Find Me does what fans of Call Me by Your Name want. It tells them where Elio and Oliver have arrived in the years after their summer together; and yes, it does champion the idea of true love that readers are no doubt hoping to find. However, it does so with twists and turns that don’t cease to surprise. Find Me continues the story with a sense of melancholy, not hiding away life that is rough around the edges. All of this brings forth forgiveness and acceptance as foundations for a love that is perhaps even more profound and real than it was in Call Me by Your Name.
Anna is a bookworm, student linguist and journalist.
André Aciman, Find Me (Faber, 2019) ISBN 9780571356829, hardback, 260 pages.BUY the pbk at Blackwell’s via our affiliate link (free UK P&P)