Literature

Did ‘Call Me by Your Name’ need a sequel?

By Sofia Brizio

I remember the exact day I started reading Call Me By Your Name, the bestselling novel by André Aciman. 5th of February 2018. I had borrowed it from a friend after she had been constantly messaging me about how amazing the book was. That day we were having coffee in Cardiff city centre after an afternoon of lectures. We were both tired and, as the introverts we are, we decided we could use a cup of coffee and an hour of reading each their own book while sitting at the same table. Every time I looked up from my book, I saw her excitedly underlining sentences with a pencil on her book, which made me wonder what was so special about it.

She finished it that same day, so I borrowed it and started reading it immediately. Two pages in and I was instantly captivated; ten pages in and I was crying tears of joy. André Aciman is cheesy in many ways, but Call Me By Your Name feels just right and so relatable, regardless of your sexual orientation. More than once, I found myself nodding along while reading and thinking that this is exactly the kind of LGBT+ representation that we need. It is just pure magic.

So, needless to say, I jumped when the sequel to Call Me By Your Name was announced. I was surprised because I thought that the first book had come full circle, that the story was clearly over; at the same time, I trusted that Aciman would come up with something unique which would quench my thirst for an unforgettable, heart-warming story. As it turns out, I was wrong. 

While reading other remarkable books by Aciman, such as Eight White Nights, I was under the illusion that the worlds he creates make readers feel like they’re living in one of those glass globes with the snow inside which you can shake and watch the snow fall on a cute miniature village or two lovers kissing. Well, with Find Me, it looks like the snow globe has been smashed to the ground and the lovers in the idyllic village have escaped and gone out of their mind.

Although the beginning of Find Me is extremely intriguing and well-written, the reader’s curiosity is short-lived as the plot starts focusing on a love story born out of nowhere. I’m a firm believer in love at first sight, but that has too little credibility even for me. Filled with dialogues that don’t get anywhere and make little sense, the book soon starts to rely on frequent steamy scenes to cover up awkward transitions in the story. As Aciman’s sex scenes are always masterpieces, I cannot say that they were tasteless, but they lacked their usual magic and sometimes I got the impression that they had no reason to be where they were, as if they slipped out of the writer’s pen just to fill massive plot holes, or to give more substance to a story that, in the end, doesn’t have any.

I’ll admit that the second part of the book adds a pinch of mystery to the mix, which is always welcome, but in all honesty, you might get tired before even getting there, and I wouldn’t blame you. After all, the characters are irritating and lack originality (don’t tell me that Miranda isn’t identical to Clara from Eight White Nights) and follow either an extremely predictable or extremely nonsensical course of action. The only merit of this book is that there are so many jumps in time and narrative voids that the readers have to fill, that everything becomes more enticing and some parts wouldn’t make sense to someone who isn’t a passionate reader of Call Me By Your Name.

Other than that, Find Me plot-wise has little to do with the book of which it claims to be the sequel. Sure, we find once again all the characters that we met in the first book, except that they have nothing to do with the Elio and Oliver we learned to love. And this isn’t me being nostalgic; character growth is usually welcome in this kind of novels, but it feels like Aciman completely destroyed them by creating someone unrecognisable with whom the reader is not able to sympathise. Many readers online complained that the book has been falsely marketed as a sequel, while in reality it looks more like a spin-off with little relevance to the world Aciman had previously created. The general impression is that Find Me was only an expedient to keep riding the wave of the unprecedented success of the 2018 Call Me By Your Name film adaptation.

The same friend who first lent me Call Me By Your Name sent me these texts while reading Find Me. She told me to specify that she bought it in October as soon as it came out, and she’s still barely halfway through. I finished it in a month, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t struggle. I only carried on hoping that the story would start making sense at some point, but I was disappointed.

Although I got some strong opinions from friends who agreed with me (see above), others loved it. Some readers called it an amazing “thematic sequel” about “finding love when life feels ahead of you”, that it is “genius how well Aciman re-captures the essence of [Elio and Oliver]”. “This is a book about love, longing, all-consuming desire and the fear it might suddenly disappear. It’s also a book about what the heart wants and how strongly it clings to some people and some memories despite the passage of time”. These are all true merits of the book, and so far I have perhaps been too harsh. There have been some sentences which resonated with me, but the magic I had seen in the first book was completely gone to me, and this disappointed was so big that it obscured everything else.

So, to go back to our initial question, in my humble opinion, the answer is NO. Call Me By Your Name didn’t need a sequel, assuming that we can call Find Me a real sequel. Although Aciman, as usual, deserves an A* in LGBT+ representation, this story exists to seemingly benefit the existing market, and the only reason why it sold more than a few copies is that hard-core fans like me had ridiculously high hopes. It shows no literary quality and certainly none of the talents that we are used to seeing from Aciman. It would be a tad drastic to say that Find Me ruined the story of Elio and Oliver for me, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth. That said, to each their own. If you have some time on your hands during this lockdown, maybe have a read and decide for yourself.

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