The earlier novel was Aciman’s fictional debut, written in four months in a burst of inspiration while he was on a summer vacation. At the time, Aciman was contracted to write another book, so he wrote the ending of Call Me By Your Name in a haste. Aciman, on the phone from New York where he has lived for more than five decades, says he always planned to return to the novel to fill in the years but struggled to find a way to re-enter the world of Oliver and Elio.
But in 2016, when Aciman was on holiday in Italy, a train trip set the wheels in motion for Find Me. On the train, Aciman had a fleeting encounter – one of those striking moments of connection that stand apart from the mediocrity of the everyday – with a beautiful woman who asked him to mind her dog. It felt like something magical had happened, Aciman says, and he started writing the novel then and there. The characters were older, but they didn’t feel like strangers to him. Aciman doesn’t believe humans beings change; the way we love the first time is how we love time and again.
“It was a lovely little incident. It is something you see in films all the time. I’m married and so on, but it’s lovely as a little vignette of what could be and that for me is enough to write a novel. The what could be,” Aciman says. “No, it hasn’t happened very often in my life. I think most of the time that it has happened, I have written about it.”
It’s the “what could be” that unites the four sections of Find Me. But readers will perhaps be disappointed if they’re expecting a thorough sequel, a term Aciman won’t use, as we only catch glimpses of the Call Me By Your Name characters from different viewpoints 10, 15 and 20 years after that formative Italian summer.
The novel opens with Elio’s now-divorced professor father, Samuel, who is on a train to Rome to meet his son, now a pianist, when he sits next to a much younger woman, Miranda, who, as in Aciman’s real-life encounter, asks him to mind her dog. They are strangers who feel as though they have known each other their whole lives. The two develop a romance as they wander around Rome, which gives Sami the sense that, “I could have missed our train and never known how dead I’ve been all my life.”
In the second section, Elio, living in Paris, has an affair with a Frenchman twice his age, Michel, who he meets at a chamber music concert. In the third section, we revisit Oliver, two decades after he met Elio, now a dispirited academic, husband and father living in New York. The grand finale – part four, titled Da Capo – I won’t spoil.
“The moment in which one human being discovers the magic of another person … is a wonderful moment in life and it happens I don’t think that often. I think there is something wonderful when two human beings meet and each knows what the other wants and is ready to give to them. I think it is beautiful it doesn’t happen all the time, in fact, it seldom happens,” Aciman says.
A criticism targeted at Call Me By Your Name, both the novel and the film, was the potentially uncomfortable age gap between the teen Elio and adult Oliver, and it’s an age gap that repeats itself in Find Me in the two new relationships explored.
“There’s no real why. That’s how it came to me. Basically you don’t plan these things … there is no philosophical component that goes with it, it just happened,” Aciman says.
“But I do think I am very interested in people who bring something that the other person does not have. In this case, you have a person who is young who brings basically the energy and youthfulness to an older person; the older person who brings the devotion, care and wisdom. There’s an exchange. It doesn’t have to be an older and younger person, but this is how my pen decided to go in that direction.”
Aciman is teasing out the same themes that recur across his work: what it means to be alive and to allow oneself to live; to forgo reluctance and hesitance and to surrender oneself to the moment. In fact, there were echoes of Oliver and Elio’s romance in Aciman’s brilliant 2007 collection of stories Enigma Variations, in which 12-year-old Paul falls in love with a cabinet maker 15 years older than him.
“I think most writers have in fact one story to tell, or one problem that they are unable to resolve, and that they come back to in various concealed guises. Everyone has really just one idea in mind. I know I come back to the same thing all the time. On the other hand, I hope I am diversified enough that it doesn’t glare at you, ‘Oh, here’s another one of Andre Aciman’s story.'”
Find Me makes it clear that Elio and Oliver have never stopped holding vigils for each other. In a way, their lives started when they met and stopped when they split. They have continued speaking to each other through their silence and separation. “The rest of me here has been like the severed tail of a lizard that flays and lashes about while the body’s stayed behind all the way across the Atlantic in that wonderful house by the sea. I’ve been away for far too long” Oliver reflects. In one part of the novel, music is said to reveal the “unlived life” and Aciman sees literature as achieving a similar goal.
“Just as the listener gets that from music, I think literature gives you a sense of who you are. It doesn’t tell you anything you don’t know, it tells you things you damn well know but you hadn’t considered,” Aciman says.
“I think literature if it means anything, it’s because it is speaking about you. It is giving you, in another character, in another period of time, in another place, but it is basically saying something very profound but very vague, that you recognise instantly as, ‘This is me, I know this is me’. I love being able to give that to people and to have people come to me and say, ‘You wrote about me.'”
I think literature gives you a sense of who you are … it tells you things you damn well know but you hadn’t considered.
The film rights for Find Me haven’t been secured yet, but Aciman says he would absolutely give them to Guadagnino should he be interested. While he believes he has reached the end of Oliver and Elio’s story, he is reluctant to put an absolute full stop on it. “I could go on for years – I could, but I won’t,” he says.
Even if there is no trilogy in the works, the story of Elio’s and Oliver’s rare leap into love will no doubt go for years in the minds of readers.
Find Me is published by Faber at $39.99.
Melanie Kembrey is Spectrum Deputy Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald