André Aciman’s 2007 breakthrough novel, Call Me By Your Name – later made into an award-winning film directed by Luca Guadagnino – told the story of a blossoming romance between 17-year-old Elio and 24-year-old Oliver. Exploring themes of passion, obsession and time, the book has since acquired the status of a modern gay classic.
In Find Me, Aciman returns to the lives of Elio and Oliver some 20 years later, albeit via a circuitous route: we have to wait until almost halfway through the novel for Elio’s first appearance, and are not reacquainted with Oliver until the penultimate section. But what Aciman offers us in the meantime is an intense and rewarding prelude.
The opening section finds Elio’s father, Samuel, on a train from Florence to Rome, sharing a carriage with a beautiful young photographer, Miranda. The two begin talking and soon discover a deep connection. Within hours, in spite of the age difference between them, they are planning a life together: “I’ll know that whatever time you’ve given me, my entire life… was all leading up to you.”
The second section finds Elio embarking on a new relationship with an older man, Michel, in a clear parallel to his father’s relationship with Miranda. But Elio, a concert pianist, cannot silence the echo of his first great love, Oliver: “so many years could go by and leave me still attached to someone who had become an invisible presence”.
Oliver himself, meanwhile, is in an unhappy marriage, ruminating over his love affair with Elio, and it is not until the last section that Aciman delivers their long-awaited, inevitable reunion.
Find Me is an unashamedly romantic and philosophical novel. Characters fall in love with one another’s discourse, with topics ranging from literature and music to notions of time, desire and fate: “time is always the price we pay for the unlived life”. And yet Aciman manages, by immersing us in their emotional dynamics, to present this intellectual sparring without pretentiousness.
Fathers – and their enduring influence – loom large. Miranda is the primary carer for her father; their relationship is devoid of the delusions that often cloud familial relationships. Likewise, Samuel’s relationship with Elio is based on mutual love and respect: “We never had any secrets, you and I, you know about me, and I know about you. In this I consider myself the luckiest son on earth.” Michel, Elio’s lover, obsesses over his dead father, while in the novel’s tender conclusion, Elio realises that fatherhood can come in many different guises.
But at its core, Find Me is a study in love: not only the love we dare to embrace but the love that exists in the parallel lives we lack the courage to explore.
• Find Me by André Aciman is published by Faber (£14.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 020-3176 3837. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99