When you walk into a bookstore and realize you can get four books for the price of one, you’re probably opening a mental bottle of champagne. However, when you start reading a book and realize you’re facing a four-in-one situation – there’s little reason for celebration.
Call Me by Your Name is a four-in-one book. I’m going to lean heavily on the conclusions my reading buddy and I have reached during our ordeal.
Book One: ADHD
At first, the attention span of the narrator (Elio) seems kind of cool – because he’s a kid and of course he’s gonna be all over the place. But it gets really old really fast. Nothing is finished, and some things are not even given an opportunity to start.
Book Two: Ritalin
In book two there’s actually more than one complete scene. I managed to take a breath during some dialogues and events. Some things that were meant to be cute and lovey-dovey were a bit rapey and Elio has been walking a fine line between an infatuated youth and a creepy stalker from the beginning.
Book Three: Ritalin Overdose
In part three we suddenly have maximum concentration in detail with a bunch of unimportant characters and events which hardly give anything to the story. It only serves to further disrupt the rhythm of the book.
Book Four: What. The. Fuck.
Book Four is painful and melancholic. It’s the only part of the book that jogged my synapses and made me care about Elio and Oliver. Here we find out that Aciman can write. We get to meet an author who can focus and convey depth of feeling that shakes the reader. But we also learn that he is not aware that he had not written a story about a love that transcends time and space and is never to wither.
If their relationship corresponded to the feelings expressed in the last part of the book, Call Me by Your Name would have been one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.
Call Me by Your Name
I did not get the most important thing that’s supposed to define the depth of the relationship Elio and Oliver have. “He’s more myself than I am”, Aciman quotes Bronte. Let’s expand on that:
“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same. If all else perished and he remained, I should still continue to be, and if all else remained, and we were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger. He’s always, always in my mind; not as a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”
“till he said, ‘Call me by your name and I’ll call you by my name,’ which I’d never done in my life before and which, as soon as I said my own name as though it were his, took me to a realm I never shared with anyone in my life before, or since.”
I rest my case.
Is this even English?
“I smiled right away, because I caught his attempt to backpedal, which instantly brought complicit smiles to our faces, like a passionate wet kiss in the midst of a conversation between two individuals who, without thinking, had reached for each other’s lips through the scorching red desert both had intentionally placed between them so as not to grope for each other’s nakedness.”
We have two individuals, ok? They are having a conversation and there’s a scorching red dessert between them. The metaphorical desert is there because they want to grope for each other nakedness, but at the same time they don’t want it. The desert is meant to stop them from groping. Now, all you need to do to understand this moment is to imagine a passionate wet kiss in the midst of this “over-the-desert” “nakedness-groping” conversation.
Only then will you understand the depth and meaning of the complicit smiles Elio and Oliver shared. Or not.
The Peach Scene (Elio has sex with a peach, sex defined loosely)
I was going to skip referring to this, but I cannot because this is where the book fails irrevocably. I can shrug off dubious consent. I can explain away pretty much everything that irked me in this book, but I cannot forgive describing a “rape victim” as “loyal” nor can I forgive that the said rape victim was “struggling not to spill what [Elio] left inside”. I know it’s a peach, but dude, you should have used another comparison or you should’ve used your words more carefully.
But I Digress
I was tempted to draw yet another parallel with Moby Dick (it would be my third after Moby Dick, In Space and Of Blindness, Rabies and Whales) but I came up with the “Call Me Ishmael” angle too late and was too lazy to develop the idea having already written this long-ass post. On another note, I’m reading “How to Write Short” so maybe there’ll be less long-ass posts in the future. Although I honestly doubt it.
People who have gotten drunk with me know I cannot carry a tune and that I screw up the lyrics of pretty much every song.
There are lyrics I never get wrong, lyrics which resonate with life, lyrics so powerful they became a part of who I am.
If you’re a bit older you remember running towards the radio when That Song started to press “record”. You remember the frustration when That Song was interrupted by stupid commentary of the radio host.
I’ve learned so much English trying to understand Insomnia. Back then, I had no idea how and why would someone smoke weed. I had no idea what a duvet was and I even had to look up yeast. Twenty three years ago I had no idea what insomnia was and I had never burned a whole in a mattress.
I had another accidental exercise in reading preferences – very similar to what happened to me while reading Crazy for Vincent/Intimacy.
I started reading Saramago’s Blindness alongside Borislav Pekić’s Rabies (Besnilo), having no idea what Blindness is about (I like knowing as little as possible about a book). Turns out – again – the books are eerily similar, yet completely different.
Moby Dick Syndrome
Some books are just…no. Simply no. Blindness is one of those “No-Books” for me. Reading it was a torture, and I still cannot grasp what pushed me to finish it. Maybe it was the Moby Dick Syndrome. Let’s just say, I know there is a white whale somewhere on those pages, but not only did I not catch it, I did not even hear it.
Blindness did manage to pull me in at the start. Lack of proper names, difficulty of discerning who was speaking and the seamless transitions between sections blinded me. It made me feel like I was a part of the epidemic and it foreshadowed an amazing immersive experience (which it failed to deliver).
In Rabies, Pekic’s wild and erratic style makes you feel mad, teetering on the edge of sanity (and humanity). And even though I had a lot of difficulty navigating through it (it took two tries), I got my white whale in the end and I loved every minute of the hunt.
What a Difference a Style Makes
Blindness is smelly, languid and apathetic. Rabies is violent, intense, and bloody. The destination of both is the same, but the paths they take are different. Rabies escalates, Blindness withers.
While it’s not hard to deduce what Blindness is about, I really didn’t get it while I was reading it. Having thought about it, I assume the point was to show:
- The fragility of the human condition/society;
- The ephemeral nature of what we see as humanity;
- “Reality” is arbitrary (especially when faced with severe adversity);
- The agility with which society turns out those who are different, afflicted, unwanted….
I just did not see it – I was too busy being irritated. I did not have any “there-she-blows” moments – it was all a struggle.
Rabies, with very similar allegorical tendencies, resonated with me with no problem whatsoever. Pekic has written a thriller, a clever crime story (with a hint of supernatural) with real people you come to hate/love and care about, a story which successfully led me to the white whale.
I’m going to quote myself here because I’m so cool:
Pekić is very ostentatious, very aware of his prowess and he’s putting it out there. It’s pretty much like this: “uuu look at me, I handle words the way you cannot handle oxygen, and I know it, and I want you to know it.” And I know it. And I loved it.
It’s Not That It’s Bad – I Just Hated It
Around 100 pages into Blindness, I had no empathy left and I didn’t give a fuck about the horrible reality the characters were subjected to. But it’s hard to tell whether that was a result of Saramago’s intention to show me I’m a part of that “humanity” (which is in essence inhumane) or was it the result of me hating the book.
There are more things I appreciated in Blindness, like Saramago’s ability to write about violence, blood and murder and still making it all seem lethargic and passive. Saramago is a magnificent writer. Blindness is not a lousy book; it’s just that I hated it.
Honestly? I don’t know. Having examined Blindness in more detail makes me think I was unfair in giving it a one-star rating. But I really hated it, I really did.
Should the aftermath matter? Or should the reading experience itself be the basis for a rating?
I was a kid. Didn’t feel like one. Never felt like one.
I don’t really remember the details. Those days are a vague memory of a movie I didn’t enjoy, but was compelled to watch.
Something broke inside of me that day. Irrevocably. That much I do remember. I still hear the sound. I remember the shock. I remember that day as the day when I started to be what I am.
I’m probably wrong, because you come to be from a series of experiences, not just one defining moment. There’s no fixed dramatic structure in life.
That day, looking at the faces of my friends, on a sunny summer day, something ended, someone came to life.
Opened up my heart to the people I thought were closest to me; people I thought felt the same. Ended up being laughed at and ridiculed.
It kills. It maims. It scars.
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Status: Finished (April 6, 2017 to June 29, 2017)
I did not fall in love with Tsuki ga Kirei on first sight. There was something about character animation which made me cringe (I think it was the use of CGI, but am not sure). However, overcoming the initial cringiness was worth the while.
Tsuki ga Kirei is simple and cute with a surprising dose of realism thrown in. I have difficulty finding anything in it that defies the possibility of this story taking place in real life.
Of course, there’s your fireworks festival, sports, studying, school trip, rivalry, misunderstandings, and a lot of texting. The characters are not perfect – they actually act like real teenagers and there are no typical shoujo characters (sexy rival, villain, prince of the school, scatterbrain…). I think it is impossible not to fall in love with Tsuki Ga Kirei if you’re a fan of the holy trinity: shoujo, slice-of-life, school life.
I’ve always had immense respect for writers who were capable of putting themselves on paper. A bit of disdain (and jealousy) always went with that, because you cannot bare yourself without baring others. But then again, most writers have to be selfish, self-righteous pricks to a certain degree, don’t they?
I have read two such books recently, Crazy for Vincent by Herve Guibert and Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi. These books defy fiction and still you cannot read them as anything but. Pieces of people’s lives disguised as fiction strike me as something beyond fiction. How much of it is real? Is the fragmented, disconnected style a by-product of trying to hide as much as you reveal, or is it a conscious choice to enhance the realism of depicting human emotional life?
How much of it is a result of compulsion, and how much a choice of the author? Can we talk about plot, characterisation or structure? Can we rate a person’s life just because they decided to put it in a book?
250 Pages – a Million Questions
The two books total at a bit over 250 pages, yet they have left me with so many questions – about life and nature of literature, its purpose and function – both personal and civilizational. Is literature meant to entertain or educate? Even if an author decides on the purpose, is it even important – being so dependent on what the reader is bringing into the process?
Different or Not
Different yet eerily similar (and familiar!), both Crazy for Vincent and Intimacy show that most of us (if not all) are broken, in disrepair – searching for meaning, love or something like it.
The paper is not covered with ink it’s covered in scars – especially in Crazy for Vincent. Guibert is more self-aware. Unlike Kureishi, he is not self-aggrandizing (even when he’s trying to be contrite). Guibert does not try to justify himself or his story, while I felt Kureishi had the need to prove that he is a “good man” by the same bourgeoisie standards he’s failing/refusing to meet.
The fact that I could see a reflection of myself in these stories complicates things further. More questions arise, because they have managed to elevate a deeply personal experience to a more universal level (at least in my case). We’re talking about male authors. One of them is obsessed with his young gay lover (simplification!), the other is trying to rationalize his decision to leave his wife and two sons. Not very relatable in my case, yet the emotional level, the raw material is malleable.
Ethics of Fiction
I’ve read a review of Intimacy on Goodreads which made me pause and which is closely related to my intro. Does a writer have an obligation to protect those he includes (exploits) in the service of his writing? Should Kureishi have masked the autobiographical elements of Intimacy to protect his family and friends? All valid questions, but I consider them unimportant, because even if Kureishi “tweaked” his life in order to be nice (?), a book like this would have brought about the same questions as the “untweaked” version.
I believe that if you choose to be a (certain type of) writer and you actually succeed in becoming one, you have to be prepared to be judged and called “unethical” or “selfish and self-righteous “.
Leaving is a feeling that overwhelms me at times. It’s so abstract. I don’t want to leave anyone. There is no place I wish to leave behind in a cloud of dust. It’s just a word that pops up into my head and takes me over; a word I don’t know what to do with. The probability that what I want to leave is myself is what freaks me out the most. Because, that’s something I cannot leave.
I don’t dream about distant beaches or snowy hilltops of some non-European country. I just feel like leaving. Maybe it’s a phonological mistake. Maybe I feel like living. Whatever that might be.