When I made plans to participate in Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, I thought long and hard about what to read for Task #5: A Book By or About Someone Who Identifies as LGBTQ. There are so many viable options, some of which have been on my TBR list for years. But I found Giovanni’s Room, and I liked the title, so I went with it.
Giovanni’s Room is a ride through Paris’s darkest and dirtiest streets, and all the dark and dirty things that happen in it give readers more to chew on. It is one of those books that reveals how it’s going to end in the opening chapters. Readers know where they’re headed with every page-turn; the enjoyment comes from trying to figure out how they’ll get there.
James Baldwin‘s second novel is painful to read. The narrator, David, is torn between his love for Giovanni and his sense of duty to his father, his girlfriend, and heteronormative American culture. David views the older gay men in his circle of Parisian friends as pathetic and predatory; they buy the company of young men until they tire of them and move on to greener pastures. Although his relationship with Giovanni is – or could be – different, David flees and refuses to believe he could remain in Paris as a gay man.
This inner torment leads David down a variety of self-destructive paths. He lies. He drinks. He rapes. He isn’t a good person, but then, hardly anyone in Baldwin’s novel is.
Giovanni’s Room is a dark, meaty, and often-overlooked book. It made David Foster Wallace’s list of “Selected Obscure/Eclectic Fictions,” if that means anything to you. It’s painful to read, but it sticks around in all the best ways.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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