Find Me, the much-anticipated sequel to Call Me By Your Name, begins with an older man on a train in Florence, meeting a younger woman. We soon find out the man is Samuel, who you might recall as the father of Elio from Call By Your Name, the same father who delivers the film’s (and book’s) famous speech about not numbing ourselves after heartbreak. “To feel nothing to avoid feeling anything – what a waste!” That speech hinted at a deep regret within Samuel, and in this sequel we finally see Samuel make some form of peace with it.
Find Me answers the question mark at the end of Call Me By Your Name, namely, did the book’s summer lovers Elio and Oliver ever end up together? Sensibly Aciman seems to have realised that the answer to that question is not actually that interesting, and it only comes at great length, more than 90% the way through this book. But what feels at first like a somewhat cheeky bait-and-switch turns out to be rich ground for investigating the passage of time, fate, and the many people we are over our lifetimes.
To say much more might spoil what is a surprising and twisting narrative, but we do catch up with all the key characters from Call Me By Your Name, in Rome, Paris and New York. Find Me is set about 20 years after Oliver and Elio’s initial romance.
Find Me is capital ‘E’ European novel, a novel of Western Civilisation with all the baggage that entails (in Australia we are scarred by discussions of Western Civilisation after a certain prime minister tried to hijack university curricula). It is obsessed with art (mainly music). It also makes it seem like only two things ever happened in history, Ancient Greece and the Holocaust, but maybe that is true of how Europe will be remembered. Its most compelling subplot involves the mystery of a Jewish composer who disappeared in 1944. The novel embraces an ethos of same-sex love that draws on Ancient Greece, before any conceptions of a ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ identity. It somewhat offended my millennial sensibilities, but perhaps that is healthy.
I read a few passages with a strong eye roll. For example, Miranda, the young woman who Samuel meets on the train, is a walking older man’s fantasy. She is ‘feisty’, beautiful but doesn’t know it, more an idea than a person. At one point her and Samuel discuss paradoxes, “a fractured truth, a wisp of meaning without it legs.” They could be describing her characterisation.
But despite these gripes, I really did enjoy the book’s meditation on fate. It is obsessed with the Romantic idea of a ‘real’ or fated life, a life that can only be lived through courage and seizing the day, of speaking instead of remaining silent. Should we ignore this life, we split ourselves, pause time, condemn ourselves to a lifetime of regret. It’s not necessarily an idea I agree with, but I appreciated the depth of exploration.
I also enjoyed, as in Call Me By Your Name, the spirit of transgression (most infamously depicted in the original via a peach). Find Me doubles down on the theme of older-younger relationships and daddy issues, and flirts with incest. Apart from providing a much-needed edge, it gives the novel a beautiful braided structure of relationships being passed down through generations, a structure that mimics the counterpoint of Bach’s music at the novel’s heart.
I think fans of the original novel and film will find the sequel really rewarding.
Gay rating: 4/5 for some gay sex (depicted fairly timidly), ‘bisexual’ characters (although they probably wouldn’t call themselves such) and major daddy issues.