Call me by your name, again
- André Aciman’s eagerly awaited sequel to his bestselling novel is likely to leave fans disappointed
- He begins ‘Find Me’, defying all expectations, not with Elio and Oliver, the lovers in ‘Call Me By Your Name’
Like people in real life, characters in fictional sequels don’t necessarily age gracefully. When I began reading Find Me, André Aciman’s eagerly awaited sequel to his best-selling novel Call Me By Your Name (2007), made into a hit movie by Luca Guadagnino in 2017, I was filled with equal parts excitement and foreboding. By the time I was done, my apprehensions stood confirmed.
Aciman begins Find Me, defying all expectations, not with the story of Elio and Oliver, the lovers at the centre of Call Me By Your Name—rather, almost the entire first half of the book is devoted to Elio’s father, Samuel Perlman, now divorced from his first wife, and his encounter with a stranger called Miranda, who is several decades younger than him, while they are on a train to Rome.
Critics have noted similarities between Aciman’s opening and Richard Linklater’s movie Before Sunrise, where a chance meeting between a young man and woman turns into a fleeting but heady romance. Samuel and Miranda aren’t simply besotted with each other though. Over the next 24 hours, she coaxes him into lunching at her father’s, they confess their deepest, darkest fears to each other, make love, and discuss having children. “Is this going too fast for you?" Miranda asks an overwhelmed Samuel at one point. Many readers will probably be nodding in the affirmative by this time.
Perhaps the moral of the Samuel-Miranda story is not to indulge in casual flirtation on trains, unless you are prepared to embrace the consequences: in their case, matrimony and an offspring. Aciman writes their relationship with feeling but also melodrama. The two engage in deep, tormented conversations about love and loss. In Miranda, Samuel sees an echo of Elio—“the same embittered, impassive, injured hearts". But most disturbingly, Aciman seems to make no bones about the theme of father fixation that runs through their affair. Samuel, a scholar of the classics, even compares Miranda’s attraction to him with Myrrha’s incestuous love for her father Cinyras in the Greek myths.
Writing about love between two people separated by the gulf of age is a tricky, if not bold, proposition, as the #MeToo movement continues to throw up revelations about sex and power imbalance. The best one can always hope for in such portrayals is an avoidance of tired stereotypes. Unfortunately, the latter seems not only pervasive in Samuel’s relationship with Miranda but also in Elio’s attachment to Michel, a middle-aged lawyer he falls for during his years as a music teacher at a conservatoire in Paris.
Making good his promise as a young prodigy, Elio is a successful concert pianist in Find Me. He has a steady job, tours the world. Yet, in spite of his success, he is unhappy, still nursing the wounds inflicted on his teenage heart by Oliver, who left him after a torrid romance to return to his home in the US, get married to a woman, and father two children. Elio’s love life, punctuated by “occasionals" (one-night stands and frivolous dalliances), comes to a sudden halt when he meets Michel at a church concert one evening. Like his father’s first meeting with Miranda, Elio feels an electrifying edge as he sets his eyes upon the older man. Michel is painfully conscious of their age difference, a fact that he brings up with irritating regularity, and is already resigned to losing Elio even before their relationship is a month old. His abject affection for Elio, particularly the melancholic intensity inspired in him by the younger man, is reminiscent of Samuel’s rapidly escalating relationship with Miranda. If Michel doesn’t have the courage to invite Elio back to his place on their first date, he makes up for his tardiness with his doting adoration soon enough.
Aciman’s love for classical music is distilled into Elio’s time with Michel. His abiding concern with Jewish identity and the Holocaust also inform this section, especially in a long digression into an unspoken aspect of Michel’s late father’s life. While Elio’s investigation into a mysterious sheet of music bequeathed to Michel by father is intriguing, we do feel impatient to get to Oliver, who is saved for the concluding, somewhat hastily written, short section.
A professor of classics in the US, unhappily married to a woman called Michol, and father of two sons, Oliver hasn’t mellowed, at least romantically. He is still equally moved by women and men, though in a corner of his heart he is riddled with guilt for cruelly abandoning Elio all those years ago after their idyllic Italian summer together. You will have to wait till the coda of Find Me to discover if Elio and Oliver ever find each other. But, by that time, Aciman’s conceit feels so tedious that it doesn’t matter any longer.