Giovanni’s Room (1956) by James Baldwin
Set in the contemporary Paris of American expatraites, liasons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. James Baldwin’s brilliant narrative delves into the mystery of loving with a sharp, probing imagination, and he creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the heart.
Was it what I expected?
It’s a super important work in gay literature, which was my historical field of study, (although it’s by and about bisexuals), so I’ve been meaning to read it forever. It also fit the “Classic by an author of color” prompt for the Book Riot challenge this year. I rather expected it to be more obscurely queer, but instead it was basically identical to all the gay pulp I read last year, only more depressing. There’s no guessing if these characters are queer, the whole book is about it, but while pulps often had to include downer endings in order to be socially acceptable, illustrating the evils of homosexuality and all that, those written by queer people usually made it very obvious where the downer got tacked on, or mix it with positive, or rightly blamed society for how they were treated. This one’s absolutely dripping with self-loathing, which is probably how it got to be treated as “literature,” which is depressing too.
Did I like it?
I confess, I only read the first half and then read a summary of the rest. It was just so boring and repetitive. I might feel differently if I hadn’t slogged through so many pulps already. Baldwin writes some great lines, observations of much higher quality than most pulps attain, but other than that, meh.
Is it worth reading?
It’s definitely important, and I think it would be more fruitful to study than to read for pleasure. But since I’m done with that research, I just couldn’t sustain much interest.