James Baldwin Book Giovanni Room

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I think I first came across James Baldwin when author Cole Brown picked The Fire Next Time as one of his Desert Island Books. Cole said that he came to Baldwin’s work ‘embarrassingly after in life’, and I remember making a mental note to read Baldwin sooner rather than afterr. It took a little over a year after recording the podcast with Cole until I would find myself in possession of a book of Baldwin’s – thanks to my friend David Wade – who lent me his copy of Giovanni’s Room.

 

Having spent the first half of 2022 reading books in something of a haphazard manner, as the second half of the year approached, I wrote down the list of books I wanted to cross off before the year had ended, and so, one grey and miserable afternoon in Bondi – of which, there have been many – I settled in to start Giovanni’s Room.

Giovanni’s Room Book Review

One of Baldwin’s most famous novels, Giovanni’s Room is an exquisitely written tale that I loved as soon as I started reading it, and that I have thought about ever since finishing it. An achingly beautiful read, in Giovanni’s Room we meet David, an American who has escaped to Paris to find himself. Soon after his arrival in Paris he meets Giovanni – and, despite being betrothed to his fiancé, Hella – a relationship begins to form between the two men.

With a heady Parisian backdrop, Baldwin really captures the city’s lusty atmosphere, and it’s obvious throughout the novel that he he was well-acquainted with the city.

A short, succinct, and powerful book, Giovanni’s Room is an devoted look about the failure of love, passion, promise and despair. It examines an impassioned affair between two men searching for happiness – as David struggles to come to terms with his venereal, and to reconcile his inner conflict – and offers a grim portrayal of the subsequent catastrophic ruin both men face. The narrator’s persistent despair casts a melancholic shadow over the events he recollects, and a sense of deep contrition permeates the ill-fated tale.

From the start, the reader and narrator share a mutual understanding of the story’s distressing and inalterable conclusion, making it even more difficult for both to trek through the memory of misadventure. Baldwin’s language is lyrical and haunting; his imagery agonizing, and while Giovanni’s Room is by no means an easy book to read, it’s undoubtedly an important one.

I can’t remember the last time I was this blown away by a book. The evocative Parisian setting, the gothic-like nature of the tale, the desire; the shame and the venereal; the all-consuming love and lust.

And oh, the unrivalled joy of discovering an author I’ve not yet read, only to have an entire back catalogue to devour.

Giovanni’s Room Summary

Baldwin’s haunting and disputable second novel is his most sustained treatment of venereal, and a classic of gay literature. In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by peril liaisons and hidden roughness, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself. After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his venereal identity as he oscilafters between the two.

Examining the secret of love and passion in an intensely imagined narrative, Baldwin creates a moving and complex story of passed away and desire that is revelatory in its insight

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