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Guest Post: « Find Me » (Buck Jones)

Cette fois-ci, nous avons un invité qui nous parlera – en anglais, une fois n’est pas coutume – du livre Find Me d’André Aciman.


In « Find Me », Aciman shows us Elio’s father, Samuel, on a trip from Florence to Rome to visit Elio, now a gifted classical pianist. A chance encounter on the train upends Sami’s visit and changes his life forever.

Elio soon moves to Paris, where he, too, has a consequential affair, while Oliver, a New England college professor with a family, suddenly finds himself contemplating a return trip across the Atlantic.

Aciman is a master of sensibility, of the intimate details and the nuances of emotion that are the substance of passion. « Find Me » brings us back inside the world of one of our greatest contemporary romances to show us that in fact true love never dies.

Review written by Buck Jones and published with his authorization

I am one of those who found out about Aciman after falling in love with the film adaptation of “Call Me By Your Name”. Ravenously consuming all things related to that film, I sought out anything I could find, whether it was the gorgeous Timothée Chalamet who played the lead character Elio (I still have the GQ magazine on which he graces the cover on my coffee table at home), listening to Sufjan Stevens’ original songs from the film, or even going to the Maison de la Poésie down the street from me to see in person Mr. Aciman who was promoting the French release of his other novel (“Enigma Variations”). I bought the original novel of “Call Me By Your Name” with the excited frenzy of someone who was in love with a new lover, hoping that the adage that “the book is better than the film” held true in this case (it did).

But while this is not a review of “Call Me By Your Name”, it is to give a clue of the anticipation I had for the sequel. I felt a kind of dread, fearing that it could not possibly live up to the original story. It was better to leave Elio and Oliver as they were left in the novel, with an ending that I read through tears. I remember the evening I finished “Call My By Your Name”, as I savored every last paragraph, sentence, and word. The emotions had poured out of me, and I had the sort of embarrassing cry that is best done in solitude.

Of course, I longed to see Elio again, to know that he was still that beautiful, talented soul. The boy who had tortured himself as a seventeen-year-old piano virtuoso, wondering whether Oliver, the summer boarder at his parents’ villa in Italy didn’t hate him, but maybe kind of liked him. The way that Aciman was able to capture this teenaged boy’s inner torment, a universal experience for every adolescent but which also so vividly dealt with Elio’s homosexuality, made their story doubly poignant for me.

“It was already perfect, please don’t ruin this for me,” I reflexively thought.

I knew from my period of reading and listening to all-things-Aciman that he had remarked in interviews how Elio’s father in the story had been especially well received by both the readers of the novel and those who had seen the film (portrayed by the wonderful Michael Stuhlbarg). So, it came as little surprise to me as I began reading “Find Me” that it was the story of Elio’s father, told in the first person. The setting had changed, we were now in Rome, several years after the events of that magical summer in 1983 when Elio and Oliver consummated what seemed to be a love for all eternity. Or was it? In “Find Me” we follow Sami, now divorced from his wife and well into late middle-age, on a train where he meets a young woman. Over the course of their train voyage, and as they walk in Rome, they confide in each other, slowly revealing themselves to the other, peeling away protective shells, the masks, that we project to others in public, depending on our roles and on the expectations of others.

This theme of inter-generational intimacy, of the layers of life, is one that was a key element in the romance between adolescent Elio and the older, doctoral student Oliver in “Call Me By Your Name”. In this sequel, we were now exploring it from Elio’s father’s perspective, and frankly, it disappointed me. I wanted to find Elio. The title of the novel seemed to scream out to me that it was a call from Elio (or Oliver) to the other, and here we were in the midst of a love affair between Sami and Miranda, this young girl who is Elio’s age. I was disheartened, despite the lovely descriptions of the vigils Sami held with Miranda, retracing places from his past in Rome as a young student, or with his son Elio.

Passages such as: “It’s just that the magic of someone new never lasts long enough. We only want those we can’t have. It’s those we lost or who never knew we existed who leave their mark. The others barely echo” and: “Aren’t those the absolute worst scenarios: the things that might have happened but never did and might still happen though we’ve given up hoping they could” were almost a taunt to me from Aciman. “Yes, you want that flush of passion from an Elio in the summer of 1983, but he’s gone now,” he seemed to be telling me. “This is a variation of a theme, like something that a cocky teenager might have played to try to impress Oliver.”

Yes, there is music in this novel. It is there from the start, although I didn’t realize it at first. The story is told in four parts, beginning with Tempo, which obviously means “timing” in a musical sense, but also, in a colloquial way timing has to do with fate. And fate is clearly a constant idea that is visited and revisited throughout this masterpiece. Sami and Miranda discuss it, the timing for their having met (he’s concerned about his advanced age, roughly the same as her dying father), and how it was obviously at the core of Elio’s relationship to Oliver (even obliquely alluded to in Oliver’s throw-away phrase he repeats during that summer, “Later!”). Timing and fate begin as a slow beat in this opening to the story, and gradually build to a full percussive presence once Elio finally makes his appearance nearly halfway into the work.

It is in Cadenza, the second movement of this tale, that we find Elio at long last. He is now living in Paris, teaching piano at the conservatory. It is a few years after Tempo, and we learn that Sami and Miranda have had a child together, a baby boy. Elio is alone, and through happenstance (fate), he meets an older gentleman. Michel and he begin a fast-paced, passionate love affair. I grew myself jealous of Michel, this middle-aged Parisian who was insecure about his age in the face of the manifest beauty of Elio—of a “different generation” is how he constantly reminds both Elio and the reader that there again is a timing problem.

Or perhaps the timing isn’t the real problem at all, but how we use the time we have. It is this playing with time, with fate, and re-evaluating where it is we come from and where we want to go, that Aciman dangles in front of us.

He writes: “The composer of the cadenza had divined what Mozart hadn’t finished composing and what Mozart had left open-ended for others to finish for him, even if they composed it in an entirely different age when music had altogether changed… what one needed was to reinvent him in ways he himself would never have imagined, to build where Mozart had stopped building, but to build what Mozart would still recognize as irreducibly his and only his.

The people who have touched us in our lives earlier, sometimes profoundly, leave us and let others continue the work that they had started. Elio is still very much a work in progress with Michel, and now that we are in Elio’s mind, we see the traces of that insecure and innocent youth ever present as he contemplates if Michel might be a long-term romance, someone with whom he will build a future. Michel is not so sure, and as they share their past, we finally have an inclination that perhaps Oliver will make an appearance, for Elio admits that there had only been one other in his life who wasn’t a temporary lover, but had become the standard in his life of what true love was. Elio says to Michel, “No, because you and he are the standard. Now that I think of it, there’s only been the two of you. All the others were occasionals. You have given me days that justify the years I’ve been without him.

At this point in the novel the two of them begin working on a mystery that Michel shares with him, a secret that he hopes will bring them even closer together regarding a musical composition that had been hidden through the years. Reaching this charming sub-plot, I finally began to warm up to Michel, and the literal title of the novel, “Find Me”, revealed itself as the two of them searched for the meaning of this old score of music, and who wrote it. But it is also a plea for one to find oneself, to look inside and evaluate what it is we are really doing here, why we are going where we seem to be ineluctably headed, and is it possible to change our destination, our fate. “What could be more gratifying than to know that it will always be up to someone else to complete and round off our life?” “Find Me” is a call from across time, across the ocean, from Oliver. To Elio. From Elio to Oliver.

With Capriccio, Aciman advances us even further in time, to New York City five years later where we find Oliver. He is now in his early forties, frustrated not only emotionally because he is about to move back to his teaching job in New Hampshire after a too short sabbatical in Manhattan with his wife, but also frustrated because he is tempted. Tempted by the young girl who is his de-facto yoga partner, by the young man who is in the other department at the university, tempted by a life otherwise lived. It is a lively evening, this final get-together of his temporary life that he has constructed in New York, and it culminates in Paul, the young man who is the object of Oliver’s momentary efforts of seduction, playing the piano. The sonata that he plays brings Oliver back to thoughts of Elio, who played the exact same score so many years ago in Italy, and across this expanse we have Oliver asking:
Are you listening to his playing? I asked the one person who was absent, but never absent for me.
I’m listening.
And you know, you do know I’ve been floundering all these years.
I know. But so have I.
What lovely music you used to play for me.
I wanted to.
So you haven’t forgotten.
Of course I haven’t.

At this moment, I was back. I was back in love with everything these two had been to me, what Aciman had so achingly constructed, this love story that transcends time. I was back in my own 1983. My own inner monologue had become a dialogue with my own former self. To find me.

There are so many pearls to be found in this multi-layered masterpiece. The ending, Da Capo, is indeed the conclusion that I wanted. No spoiler alert, I won’t ruin it for the reader. But I was not disappointed, and I am glad I read it in solitude. While “Find Me” can be read as a stand-alone novel, it is far more satisfying paired with its companion, “Call Me By Your Name”. Like two hands playing a perfectly tuned Steinway piano, each novel is a harmonious concert of beauty and love.


Titre : Find Me
Auteur : André Aciman
Éditeur : Faber & Faber
Date de parution : 29 octobre 2019
Genre(s) : Littérature
Pages : 272
Lu par : Buck Jones
Lu en VO : Anglais (américain)
Sensualité : 5 flammes sur 5


5 étoiles sur 5

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Buck a acheté un exemplaire de Find Me et nous a fourni ici sa critique sincère.

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