Find Me: A Book Review
Find Me by André Aciman, 2019 (Cover: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
I love love. Before I set about expressing my unversed and uneducated literary opinion on André Aciman’s hotly anticipated Find Me, the sequel to the internationally beloved romance Call Me By Your Name, I think it should be well established that I am perhaps the most hopeless romantic I know. I could read and re-read A Room with a View until the pages fall apart. Despite all this, and as much as I adored Luca Guadagnino’s beautifully heart-shattering screen adaptation of Aciman’s breakout novel, as soon as I picked up its sequel, I wanted to put it down.
On a train between Florence and Rome, our first encounter with either of Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name protagonists is through Elio’s father, Sami. En route to meet his son (who works as a concert pianist) Sami, now divorced, engages in conversation with a nameless woman far younger than himself. Age is just a number; so far so good. Yet mere minutes into their acquaintance, the two travellers become engrossed in a philosophical rapport better suited to the planes of a classical drama than to a contemporary commuter train. Aciman’s usually compelling lyrical prose seems entirely superfluous between two strangers, both of whom miraculously understand the multitude of obscure Grecian references thrown in every couple of pages for good measure. The romance of antiquity is undeniable and I absolutely got the intention. Yet, with every page, Aciman’s pursuit of a sun-drenched romance retreats further into its own ridiculousness. A train journey becomes lunch, lunch becomes a walk, a walk becomes an unprecedented trip to Villa Albani and so on so forth - all marked by exalted declarations of love, questions of tattoos, children and a future together within less than 12 hours of knowing one another. Before you blink, half the novel is gone and you’re left wondering what Aciman lost in the unnecessary excursions and accessory incidents that monopolise this otherwise touching exploration of true love and fate.
The second of the novels’ three parts shifts into a new present in which Elio, upon having moved to Paris, embarks on an affair with a much older man. Drawing some serious parallels to his father and Miranda, Elio narrates his fast-paced and all-encompassing experience with Michel after meeting him at a concert. The same unbelievable intensity runs through their story arc as the pair express their sentiments within hours and become inseparable, even traveling to Michel’s country home together on the weekends. It is here where the entirely odd and misplaced mystery of Léon unfolds. In a fashion that almost suggests Aciman’s hastening disinterest in the dramatics of his own creation, he pursues a separate storyline in which Elio and Michel try to identify the mysterious author of a piece of sheet music left by Michel’s father - to practically no conclusion. Confused? I was too. Ultimately, Elio’s string of meaningless affairs and even this new emotional encounter are eclipsed by memories of Oliver.
We hear from Oliver last. Unhappily married with two sons, the student-turned-teacher has developed romantic obsessions with two other people but continues to think of Elio, imagining his voice and recalling his hands at the piano. Oliver’s is the shortest of the three pieces and as each decreased in terms of character development, Oliver suffers the most. Aciman loses the valuable opportunity to explore Oliver’s life in the States after leaving Elio all those years ago. After the extensive efforts he took in detailing Sami and Miranda’s two-day affair, it’s frustrating to see such little development or interest in one of the main protagonists of the original story.
Aciman’s sequel explores the human desire for love from a beautifully reflective and philosophical perspective. His gift for the written word is never more clear than in Find Me and yet his characters have never seemed more shallow, pretentious and inconceivable in the real world. He wants us to believe in his vision of unparalleled, insurmountable love. A love so absolute, it carries over the time, distance and human experience so earth-shatteringly apparent to anyone who ever had their heart broken. And I wanted to buy it, I really did. But no number of cobbled Italian streets, wine bars or Parisian affairs could ever convince me of the happy ending scribbled so hastily with no relevance or explanation in the last five or so pages.