André Aciman returns to Call Me by Your Name with sequel Find Me
With the sequel to the sensation Call Me by Your Name being released into the world, The Skinny talks to André Aciman about returning to his characters in follow-up Find Me
André Aciman didn’t think Call Me by Your Name was going to be a good movie. In fact, the author really didn’t think the adaptation of his book was going to be good, so much so that he didn’t bother attending its world premiere. “I think it’s because I’m very negative about myself,” contemplates Aciman about why he didn’t think the film would work. He’s calling from Budapest and his sentences are occasionally punctuated by the dramatic swoosh of a passing car. “I had written this book and didn’t even expect it to get published. Then, ten years later, it was going to be made into a movie and I just thought the movie wouldn’t be great.”
It was a pleasant surprise, then, that Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation wasn’t just great; it was career-best, Oscar-nominated great. “The night of the premiere, suddenly I was getting a million tweets saying everybody’s crying, everybody’s applauding,” chuckles Aciman. “Turns out this was a very successful movie.”
Call Me by Your Name is the story of seventeen-year-old Elio, who falls in love with his father’s grad student, Oliver, during a summer in Italy. It’s an unashamedly romantic story about first love, lost love and queer love. While Call Me by Your Name was critically acclaimed when it was first published in 2007, Guadagnino’s film turned Elio and Oliver’s love story into a cultural sensation. Fans rallied for a sequel to Elio and Oliver’s relationship and it was a pleasant surprise when Aciman announced that he too would love a sequel to Call Me by Your Name – in fact, he was finishing one.
“The story never left me,” he explains. “Elio and Oliver were always in the wings. You never forget that you’ve written such a story because it stays with you for the rest of your life. After writing Call Me by Your Name, I finished another novel and then I started writing the sequel.”
The sequel, Find Me, begins not with Elio’s voice but his father’s. He is about to embark on his own life-changing love affair with Miranda, a woman he meets on a train. “I had started Find Me with the voice of Elio but it wasn’t working,” Aciman explains. “I tried again and again and again, gave up and then started again.
“I found that starting with the father was the best way to go back into this story. I realised that Elio will come back at the very end of this chapter and that’s how we’re going to discover who he is ten years later. I didn’t want to confront him right away. I needed that external voice around Elio to make a few comments so that when you do meet him, you have a good idea of who he has become.”
This parent-child dynamic that begins at the end of Call Me by Your Name is fleshed out further in Find Me. “The father/son or father/daughter relationship is and has been very important to me in my own life,” says Aciman. “It’s a very rich relationship, full of intimate exchanges. In Call Me by Your Name, we have the father giving the son advice and here we have the son saying it’s nice to see his father in love again. So there’s an exchange of roles but a sense of indelible intimacy between them, that they know nothing can come to destroy or come to challenge it. And the same thing is between Miranda and her father. She travels every week from one city to another city to take care of him. She jokes with him but she’s basically there to watch him die.”
Aciman’s novels could better be called investigations into the intricacies of relationships’ intimacies. “I think that being intimate with someone else is probably the best thing that can happen in our entire lives,” he explains. “That’s why people have such strong relationships with their mothers even if their mother is cruel. Because from childhood, there is an instant intimacy and that stays with you – it morphs and changes – but it’s with you for the rest of your life and your mother’s life.”
Aciman compares these constantly shifting intimacies to layers of tectonic plates. “They’re constantly shifting places. The plate that was on the bottom comes to the top and that one goes to the middle and so on. I think we’re that way in everything: in our professional lives, sexual lives and religious lives. All these aspects of ourselves are mobile. It’s not that we’re unstable, it’s that we’re constantly changing. But in our core – if we have an inner core – it’s the same one we’ve had since we were very young children.”
This constant morphing is why Aciman refuses to use labels in his writing, particularly those surrounding sexuality. “I don’t do it intentionally but it comes very naturally to me, to avoid labels and names and to avoid anything that is specific. It’s the stuff that is ambiguous in our lives that is interesting. Once you give it a name, that’s it! Where do you go from that? I have no interest in labels and particularly sexual labels. I think we’re – to use the word we all use nowadays – fluid. Or, rather, tectonic plates.”
As a sequel, naturally much of Find Me meditates on the past: past relationships and past versions of the characters. “There are memories of our lives all over the place and we go back to revisit things or people sometimes,” says Aciman. “We don’t know why but it’s as if we want to pull back time. I ask people this question all the time and they laugh and then they admit to it: why do many of us call our ancient telephone numbers? Or revisit an apartment we used to live in years before? What is being accomplished?
"It’s as if we’re not just trying to reconnect with the past but we want the past to sort of come towards us and draw closer as if we can become whole again, which is what I call the act of homecoming. It’s that sense of coming home as if you’ve finally found your centre again and as if you’ve been living off-kilter your entire life. So you want to come back home and return to places that were once dear to you to feel accomplished. But it turns out it’s the expectation that you’re going to do it that is itself the accomplishment.”
Is writing novels, then, how Aciman accomplishes a homecoming?
“Yes,” he says, after a pause and a swoosh of a passing car. “That idea of homeland has been difficult for me in my personal life. And still, when I go to paper and I start to write I feel like I’m building and entering my home again. The act of sitting with a computer and typing away is in many ways like finding your centre again. It’s ironic in a way that it should be on paper and not in real life but real life is really very invasive. Paper anchors us far better, don’t you think?”
Find Me is out 31 Oct via Faber