Monday, June 18, 2012

"Giovanni's Room" by James Baldwin

" can give each other something which will make both of you better—forever—if you will not be ashamed, if you will only not play it safe." (77)

View from apartment rental via Haven in Paris via A Cup of Jo

James Baldwin knows drama. Don't you love the four quoted words on the cover of the 1964 edition below? (It's the one I readlucky me, someone left it in my office.) ""

They're actually a great way to describe the 1956 novel. It is, in a word, red. The characters bleed, fall in love hard. They're life-or-death desperate, and so are many of the speeches they make to one another, including the one above. It's Jacques vehemently trying to convince the main character, David, to love Giovanni. "Love him," Jacques says. "Love him and let him love you."

It's refreshing to read a book dramatic enough to be marketed as pulp that also manages to be literary, and I think, art. "Literary" fiction (and those of us trying to write it) can so often be strangled by subtlety. Baldwin is a reminder that characters (and people) are allowed to be sentimental and mawkish and, yes, even melodramatic so long as the narrative extends beyond  melodrama. 

Toward the end, when Giovanni and David say goodbye, you can all but picture Giovanni in a juicy made-for-TV movie, bawling and screaming: "You have never loved anyone, I am sure you never will! You love your purity, you love your mirror—you are just like a little virgin, you walk around with your hands in front of you as though you had some precious metal, gold, silver rubies, maybe diamonds down there between your legs! You will never give it to anybody, you will never let anybody touch it—man or woman. You want to be clean" (187). 

It's entertaining as hell, but it's also an effective piece in the whole because David loves this man, hates him, and in the end, doesn't know what to do with him or his experience. It transcends categorization. He rips up the last pieces he has of Giovanni and throws them to the wind, "Yet... the wind blows some of them back" (224). 


  1. How nice to have been left a free copy of this book by a former officemate. I mostly just inherited grammar handbooks, but also a copy of Silas Marner. I've heard a lot about Giovanni's Room over the years, but you've made it sound so full of passion and well-tempered drama! My reading list is already way too long, but I do hope to get to this one someday. Until then, thank you for the lovely preview!

    1. Thanks for being my first comment, lovely!

      It's a short read, too-- you're welcome to borrow if you want. And I should read Silas Marner instead of continuing to read Middlemarch again.