My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Elio is the son of two professors. His father is a famous historian who hires a summer graduate student to join the family on their Italian Riviera estate (who wouldn’t want that gig) and help sort research and correspondence. As the book opens, Elio is preparing to welcome the newest intern, Oliver. Oliver arrives and Elio gives him a cool reception. The frigidity between the two continues for a period before they finally confront each other. Suffice it to say there’s an attraction between the two. There’s no clear explanation why they treated each other with cold shoulders, but in Elio’s case it’s probably because he’s seventeen. As for Oliver he’s twenty-four and should’ve been more mature.
Let’s take a moment and address the elephant in the room. Oliver is twenty-four and Elio is seventeen. Due to events that transpire later in the book (I won’t go into details in order not to spoil the book or the movie), but this age gap made me uncomfortable. I never felt that Oliver was taking advantage of Elio. However, I do think that Oliver, as the adult in the room, should’ve done more to help Elio process his feelings. Instead, Oliver tends to let Elio figure it out on his own. The problem is, Elio is seventeen!! As Elio is the narrator, we get his first-person limited perspective and it’s clear he’s both scared and curious about how he feels towards Oliver.
While the movie did it better when it comes to one of the most powerful speeches in the book, there’s an important moment where Elio’s father has a talk with him that makes Elio realize, his father knew what was going on the whole time. The father never once mentions the word “gay”, although there’s room for interpretation of what he’s suggesting, but instead he cautions Elio to not generalize about his life based on this one moment. I feel this is a powerful message because too often society is quick to label people. But who at seventeen could say that she or he fit into perfect boxes? Instead, the father encourages Elio to let what happens over the summer be a moment in time and process the good and bad that comes a long with it.
This was a frustrating read in places because of its limited point of view, but the idea behind the text is powerful. It addresses what happens when, during out teenage years, we first encounter the tricky emotion of desire. This is very psychological in parts and I won’t lie and say there’s things that Oliver and Elio do in the name of love that seem pretty far out there, but the author handles it in such a way that it doesn’t stain the rest of the text. There’s also a layer of culture thrown in as several languages are spoken by the characters and the setting of events shifts between places in Italy and the U.S. The cultural elements tend to temper the psychological elements and makes for an artistic tone.