Anyone who has read the sequel to Andew Aciman’s heart-bursting, soul-lightening, tear-inducing tale of first (and enduring) love, Call Me By Your Name, is maybe a little confused by the headline and subtitle of this review given expectation doesn’t actually overly play thematically into the new work.
Let me explain.
Like many who adored the first book in this pair, and then went onto immerse themselves in the brilliant film adaptation, I was on tenterhooks waiting for Find Me to arrive.
I had just finished another, very different, sequel — Margaret Attwood’s The Testaments, which, while not without fault, was still entirely satisfying — and was ready for my heart strings to be strummed, stroked, plucked and even snapped by Aciman’s next set of ruminations on the difficulties and joys of love.
And, credit to him, there were moments in Find Me where this occurred.
But these were “moments” only as, sadly, the wider work did not resonate in the same way as Call Me By Your Name, and while my own heavy weight of expectation as to what I wanted from the sequel played a hand in my disappointment, it goes further than this.
Without spoiling it for those who’ve not read Find Me, I won’t go into too much detail about the plot but some is required for context.
Aciman structures the book in four parts: the first three focus on the central characters of Samuel (Elio’s father), Elio and Oliver; the final, the latter two. I certainly didn’t object to the central theme that wound its way through each chapter — primarily of love knowing no barriers, whether they be age, time, distance or otherwise — and I can’t deny I didn’t plough through the book in record time out of eagerness to see what would play out.
However, as much as I wanted to love Find Me, I found it wanting.
For a start, some narrative and character contradictions were evident that did not match what we learned of these character’s lives in Call Me By Your Name.
While, of course, it is completely up to Aciman how he portrays the onward trajectory of each character’s story, he seems to have forgotten where such as come from at times, particularly when it comes to Samuel.
No spoilers but read it and the shortcomings around this will be apparent.
Pretty but at-times distracting words
In terms of language and tone, Aciman has pushed his prose into an even more heightened state, bordering on pure poetics at times.
Understandably this can happen when an author (or playwrite — hello Shakespeare) ruminates on love. And , of course, most of these characters are educated types who thus have a tone and manner of speech that matches their intellects. Samuel in particular, had a way about him in Call Me By Your Name that lends itself to a more poetic turn of phrase, but poetic wordplay lays more heavily across the entire second book, which unfortunately takes it away from our world too much at times, meaning it loses some of its impact.
The other unfortunate side-effect of this is that while it may be “pretty” language, it didn’t lead to strong enough tonawl shifts between each section’s protagonists — their voices felt too similar in the main.
I guess, in a way, they are all Aciman’s own voice and masked version of his journey with love, which is understandable, but regardless, more distinction was needed.
Labouring a point
OK, we get it, we’ve even know types like him.
Struggling with his identity, primarily around his sexuality and a love he cannot forget, ignore or leave behind him.
But the smallish section devoted to him was average at best, slightly undergraduate at worst.
I applaud Aciman for telling us to be true to ourselves when it comes to this. To fight conformity, to stand up for our truths, to embrace or hope for the impossible, to not forget the times when we are most touched by others and what this means to us. Forever.
Without giving too much away, Aciman essentially bashes us over the head with the Oliver problem via some very clunky narrative that is meant to let us into Oliver’s torn existence.
This was a big FAIL for me. In fact, if this section had been left out, I wouldn’t have missed it.
There definitely needed to be a section on Oliver, but for it work, it had to to give me more than this superficial moment in his awakening.
…I still appreciated Find Me and encourage you to read it for several reasons.
I did revel at the central message it portrays about love: whether we are young or old, male or female, gay or straight — whatever, really — we shouldn’t let the distractions or pressures of the world make us conform to what others contend love should be when such goes against our deepest instincts. I applaud Aciman for telling us to be true to ourselves when it comes to this. To fight conformity, to stand up for our truths, to embrace or hope for the impossible, to not forget the times when we are most touched by others and what this means to us. Forever.
And, I did lose myself in a good way in different moments or chunks of the narratives: there were still some truly beautiful sections of prose where I tasted the bittersweet joy of Call My By Your Name.
Find Me might be a novel I need to read again at some point soon. Maybe a second reading will be stripped of the huge expectations and excitement I felt at being once more let into the world of Elio and Oliver. I might even read the two novels in quick succession in the hope that my criticisms are overstated, and will be happy to retract some of them if this is the case.
As for the proposed sequel to the film, it’s currently potentially slated as moving sideways from the novels and delving into both Elio and Oliver’s lives during the most torrid days of AIDS and its devastating toll on the gay community, so maybe 3–5 years after Call Me By Your Name. The weight of expectation will no doubt similarly hang over it for me, maybe even more so given how the film and stunning performances in it enamoured so many, like me, who saw it.
Let’s hope it delivers.
But not hope too much, right?