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[248] Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

“I was in terrible confusion. Sometimes I thought, but this is your life. Stop fighting it. Stop fighting. Or I thought, but I am happy. And he loves me. Sometimes, when he was not near me, I thought, I will never let him touch me again. Then, when he touched me, I thought, it doesn’t matter, it is only the body, it will soon be over. “[88]

Set in the 1950s Paris, Giovanni’s Room is a compact novel that is so dense in emotional nuances of a young American who is involved with both a woman and a man. While his girlfriend Hella travels in Spain, David becomes friends with Giovanni: they connect the instant they meet at a bar. Although Giovanni is very fond of David, but this doesn’t make the American expatriate happy or proud. Instead the liaison makes him frightened and ashamed. Relationship with a man is sordid.

Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven matters? . . . But you can make your time together anything but dirty; you 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. [57]

Albeit David admits his love for Giovanni, he is holding on to the deceptive consolation that Hella would fulfill his social approbation. With a fearful intimation there opens in him a hatred, which love ironically spawns, for Giovanni, which is as powerful as his love. Giovanni’s Room reveals the spoken complexities of the human heart, toiled between private desire and public expectation. Beleaguered by the pain of one who is caught between desire and conventional morality, David betrays his heart’s feelings.

You want to leave Giovanni because he makes you stink. You want to despise Giovanni because he is not afraid of the stink of love. You want to kill him in the name of all your lying little moralities. And you–you are immoral. [141]

David keeps fighting Giovanni’s love by sanitizing what has happened between them instead of accepting for what it is. Although David has never lied to him, he has never allowed Giovanni to reach him. Even when he makes love to Giovanni, he treats it as if there is nobody there–he is afraid to wear his heart on his sleeves. He has always been hiding behind the lies that he becomes to believe. Giovanni’s Room is a story of death and passion in its excruciating portrayal of how tragedy justifies true love.

169 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

Giovanni’s Room (2006 Review)

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15 Responses

  1. I want to think that David will realize that he won’t be happy until he is able to be himself and to love Giovanni fully. I’m afraid to read the book if there is a tortured ending!

  2. This was one of those books I read in HS when I was reading anything I could get ahold with gay themes. This was one of the most depressing of those books and I’m afraid that while I’m older now and would probably appreciate the writing style more, I just can’t give this book another try.

    • I’ve always compared this one to Maurice, which I have recently re-read also. This one by far is more depressing and sad. I cannot bear to read the ending.

  3. I’m intrigued, but think I might have to drink while reading it! Not that there is anything wrong with an intense read like this, but still. Really great review Matt.

  4. I unfortunatley really didnt gel with this book and am wondering if I should give it a re-read. I read it in Paris as thought it would add to the book, I just found it incredibly suffocating which when a book is that short seems a little odd! I must give it another go one day.

    • Hmmm…if this one doesn’t do it for you, I recommend trying Baldwin’s longer version of this novel, Another Country. The story is more entangled as it involves more characters. Again the novel explores how a man is involved with both a woman and a man.

  5. This title was difficult for me the first time through, when I was much younger and a less experienced reader. I have found it to be a very rewarding book to revisit, though, as an older person, so I’m delighted that you have featured it again. Even though it is a short book, Baldwin’s style and richness of conception can be challenging to work through. I still have to read it slowly and thoughtfully.

    • I think what makes Baldwin a first-rate novelist in our time is his ability to pack the short novel with such suffocating details. I can see lives of his characters curliculing and dancing through his words!

  6. Read it in Contemporary American Fiction – one of my all-time favorite books.

  7. […] include The Hours by Michael Cunningham, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Maurice by E.M. Forster, and Giovanni’s Room by James […]

  8. […] allow me to reconnect to favorite classics that have never finished saying what they meant to. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, Maurice by E.M. Forster, The Hours by Michael Cunningham, Their Eyes Were […]

  9. […] American and gay, is ridiculously under-read, under-appreciated, and overlooked. I recently re-read Giovanni’s Room My friend Rick has read a book by Magdalena J. Zaborowska that renders a multitextured reading of […]

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