Giovanni’s Room

But I did not enjoy it. Kate February 4, 2017

Thank you! (Sorry about the Calvinist outbreak.)
I didn’t hate this novel. In the meantime, I recruited my friends J and C, and about four others, who each sent a book to D. David is an American in Paris, who has asked his girlfriend Hella to marry him, and she’s gone travelling in Spain alone to think about it. My friend D recruited me, so I sent a book to her friend R, who had recruited her. I’ve just had a dream recently about my boyfriend admitting he’s seeing another guy (I actually have a blog post about it). They, in the meantime, have recruited their own sets of friends, who have sent me a book each. Giovanni’s hand-to-mouth existence and his helpless reliance on the predatory gay scene, dominated by rich men with whom he does not want to have sex, is desperately sad. In the 1950s this was a terrible problem, even in forgiving, licentious Paris. Giovanni’s Room
I took part in a book pyramid scheme recently. Hella is an unhappy piece of flotsam in this unwelcoming sea of men who desire each other and want nothing from her but biological accommodation. And cool idea on sharing books with your friends. I’ve had four so far, and only one is a book I already own. In the meantime, he hangs out with his rich and unpleasant friend Jacques in Guillaume’s gay bar, and falls in love with Giovanni, an Italian barman whom everyone on the gay scene desires because he is new and fascinating and very beautiful. Giovanni is the most loving and selfless of them all, and he is the one most crushed and betrayed. Giovanni falls in love with David, and Hella returns. Great review!   I do wonder what happens at the bottom layer of recruits: it’s a good thing it’s only a book, and not wads of cash. Preferred soundtrack while reading: the sound of silence. There is constant drinking and very little enjoyment   taken in the drink or in anything else. Baldwin is totally underrated. The story is told obliquely and in flashback, so we start very near the end, and follow the protagonist’s ruminations about all the people he has let down, betrayed, lost and made miserable. David’s huge problem is that, as you’ll have spotted, he desires both men and women, and is angry and confused about why his desire for sailors   is more satisfying than anything he does with Hella. There are joyless bars in Paris, there are posturing and hissing aggressive people, and there is no loyalty, no pleasure, no passion that forgets the self and thinks only of the other. James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956), Penguin’s Great Lovers series, ISBN 978 141 03294 8, £4.99
Kate writes about books that move her deeply at katemacdonald.net
Share this:TwitterFacebookPinterestEmailPrintGoogleLike this:Like Loading… I’m not sure how it ended up on my subconscious mind so I think I might give this book a try (if I ever find it). Preferred occupation while listening to podcasts: cooking or knitting. That’s all you need to know. It is a powerful and compelling novel, and the characters have absolutely stayed in my mind. Well, not so much. There is no love, though the characters all pursue it, and talk about it, and tell each other they love each other. David, unlike a Hemingway character, doesn’t even have the grace to have a profession or vocation that he doesn’t pursue: he does sweet FA to justify or perpetuate his existence, and I want to smack his face. I hadn’t read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, but I knew about it, whereas Andrea, who sent it to me, has read it four times, and hopes very much that I will enjoy it as much as her. Ad Astra Blog February 6, 2017

Sounds kind of like the movie Midnight in Paris. It IS a classic, and the new reprint has a much less interesting cover, so I’m sure you’ll find a copy. It’s set (I think) in the 1950s, but could so easily have been the 1920s as told by Ernest Hemingway. Thanks for the read

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Betina Cipher February 3, 2017

it’s a great book, took such tremendous courage to write it. I’ll have to check it out. So it’s been delightful receiving books from strangers in the post. So you only send one book, and the more people you can recruit, the more books (in theory) get sent to you. I’m very impressed by its technical achievement, its grace and passion, and Baldwin’s astonishing storytelling. View all posts by Kate →

6 comments on “Giovanni’s Room”

wyattsawday February 3, 2017

Great in-depth review! David is a monstrously egotistical person, incapable of making a decision, content to take money from his father and from Jacques without ever giving them what they want: his father wants his son to return home and work, Jacques wants sex and favours. It was a send-it-back, upside-down-tree-connections thing, running through Facebook. Gwen Eleanor February 4, 2017

Hmm… Interesting. I did not hate this novel at all: I’m glad to have read it, and I need now to read more James Baldwin. Related

About Kate

Blogger, lecturer, podcaster, writer, critic, reviewer, researcher (in no particular order) in and on British literary history. God, it’s miserable.