David is a young American who has gone to Paris, while he awaits the return of his fiancee. There he meets the love of his life, who turns out to be another man. However, the course of their relationship is not smooth in a homophobic world. And David will make a decision that will determine the fate of his fiancee, lover and himself, for better or for worse.
Giovanni’s Room was published at a time where living as a gay man was by no means easy, to say the least. James Baldwin fearlessly navigates through explorations of love and sexuality, that were extremely controversial during his time. He employs beautiful, evocative prose to describes scenes with such vividness that the reader becomes part of his world: the dark, seductive atmosphere of the ilicit/secretive gay bar, the love and care that is contained within Giovanni’s Room which later becomes claustrophobia, and the eventual tragedy is described both realistically and hauntingly.
The characters are well-written and distinct from each other. They are realistic, terribly flawed and imperfect, torn from the insides by internal conflicts and the pivotal decisions they must make. It is usually made a point of criticism when a main character is unlikeable, however, I believe they are simply human, and perhaps we are, as a species, not always as nice as we would always like to believe. And perhaps their imperfections often rise from their very flawed societies, social expectations and norms, which they have not the power to change, and are forced to compromised and suffer, or just suffer.
The novel was generally well-paced, however the switching between past and present perspectives was not marked out clearly, so I was quite confused at first.
I would recommend this novel to people interested in:
- reading beautifully written, but not contrived, literature
- reading or learning more about the lives of queer individuals and couples in the 20th century, specifically the 1950s