Interview: Andre Aciman, author of Call Me By Your Name and Find Me
Andre Aciman, whose new novel Find Me is the literary sequel to Call Me By Your Name (2007), talks about the centrality of classical music to both the books, his love of long sentences, and what he intends to write about nextUpdated: Jan 17, 2020 19:17 IST
Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name (2007) was a popular success that garnered critical acclaim and was adapted into a film in 2017. The literary sequel to Oliver and Elio’s story, Find Me, was released late last year to much fanfare. On the telephone from New York, the author talks about the centrality of classical music in both the books, his love of long sentences, and what he intends to write about next.
Tell us about Find Me. Did the idea for the sequel come about in some way after the commercial success of Call Me By Your Name’s film adaptation or was it something you always wanted to write?
No, it was something I was always going to write. I had tried many years before, after the publication of Eight White Nights, which is another one of my books, to try to sort of continue the story of Call Me By Your Name. But it wasn’t coming the right way. In 2016, I was in Italy and I started writing a story about a gentleman who was on a train. Eventually, I realized that this gentleman could very well be Sami, the father, and he is going to see his son and from then on the story became sort of self evident.
How was your writing process for Find Me different from Call Me By Your Name, which you said was written in a few months?
Yes, it was very different. This was not as easy a book to write. The only part that was easy for some reason was the end of the book when Elio and Oliver are together again. That was easy. I don’t know why but the rest was… because it also addressed some deeper and sort of more shadowy issues such as time, ageing, the nature of desire, and of course the whole issue of regrets that come in and memory also. This became more difficult to address than simply writing about a summer romance.
Love, time and music are themes that make themselves felt in the content as well as in the form of the books. What were the underlying connections between these?
Whenever I mention classical music, I usually am addressing or at least invoking some of the greatest things that have happened on planet Earth. The Beethoven Quartet is probably one of the most important things ever developed and so entering into that zone of high aesthetics is for me possibly the best thing that can happen between two human beings, who happen also to be in love with each other. So whenever I bring up music it becomes like the underlying theme of the most beautiful things, the most perfect things. Classical music, for me, is a very important factor. I wanted not only to address it in passing but to anchor it in very deep ways, which is why I had every chapter sort of about a piece of music, ultimately.
The idea of vigils, where Elio and his father go back to places where they have had life-defining moments, did that come from a personal space?
Oh yes, of course. But I think we all do, everybody does, we all have places that are like mini monuments in our lives and we like to revisit those monuments because something of us has been impacted on these places. They could be places, they could be cities, they could be human beings, they could be anything. What part of us has basically been left behind and we like to believe that we can retrieve that part. We don’t succeed but we try and the trying itself is sort of a form of success.
What drew you about these particular cities in which you chose to set parts of Find Me?
I think you know the answer (laughs). It’s because I have lived in every one of them - Rome, Paris, New York I continue to live in. These are very essential moments in my own life. The fourth is Alexandria, which I decided was probably the most important place in my life. Going back there was my own way of biographically, if I could, coming home. Of course, that is not possible for me because I haven’t been there in many, many years and will never return there possibly. But, in a way, it was also my way of closing the story of Elio and Oliver, by bringing them to my home.
Any plans of making this into a trilogy or will this be it for Elio and Oliver?
I don’t know (laughs). Somebody just asked me the same question. I don’t know, I wish I could say it’s over and it probably is over but one never knows until… Sometimes the urge suddenly seizes you and you say, “Oh, I want to do something with Oliver and Elio again. Let’s see what happens.” I may never; I don’t think I have any plans right now.
Your style is defined by long sentences. Is that a conscious effort?
Yes, I think it is or at least it has become my way of writing. I like the long sentence because it is a way of elaborating and basically not letting something give me the slip so far as I can hold it. I like to retain things, and to examine them and interpret them and excavate them in the act of doing so. You can’t do that with short sentences. I like to analyse feelings that are complex and in a short sentence you can’t do that at all. You shouldn’t do that.
Which contemporary authors’ writing style do you admire?
By contemporary you mean alive? (laughs) I don’t think of anybody that has a great writing style. They all write very fast. I don’t think they consider style as a fundamental sort of ineradicable part of the writing process. For them style is a decent, well-done sentence. Period. No. Style is also, as Proust would say, it is part of your vision, it is part of how you conceive of everything. It’s part of the story; it’s part of the tempo; it’s part of the personality of the voice that comes through.
Do you feel that there is still a dearth of gender-fluid characters in mainstream English literature?
I don’t know. I think a lot of people are writing nowadays with very gender fluid people and there’s going to be more and you will be seeing more of it in cinema as well. So I don’t think there’s a dearth. At least, there is a beginning of it. But it’s not something that I consciously follow or try to understand. The gender of my characters is fluid because this is how I wrote them. That’s how they came to me. There was no plan or there was no political statement trying to be made.
Is there a film adaptation in the works for the sequel?
No. Nobody has told me anything. My agent hasn’t called me. Nobody. I am sure there are some people thinking about it. No option has been bought. Nothing has been done. Nothing that I know.
Are you currently working on any other writing projects?
Oh yes, there is always something going on. I have just finished a book, which is going to be published by Audible (Amazon), which I am very happy about. I am also working on another project. I don’t like to talk about the one I have not finished because you never know if you are going to bring bad luck on yourself.
Is there anything in particular that you would like to write on next?
I am writing… I have no idea how long it will be. It is about a woman who has been abandoned by a man and she is writing him a letter, a long letter, basically telling him what she is going through and what she has been going through. I have no idea how it’s going to come out. It is actually a rewriting of a very famous French story that was written back in 1675, I believe. I always go back so… (laughs).
Simar Bhasin is an independent journalist. She lives in New Delhi.