James Baldwin, when he wrote it, was a struggling black author yet how he managed to write the novella from the perspective of a white-skinned blonde American in a first person narrative, is a difficult question to answer. Part of the novella’s charm lies in deception and no wonder, a reader willing to be tricked easily will oblige at the first opportunity. And before one opens the book, Penguin Great Loves book-cover will capture your heart at once. I don’t remember when was the last time I stared so long at a book-cover.
Giovanni and David fall in love ‘beautifully’ when David’s fiancee is away somewhere. Their passionate encounters heat up the pages of the book and once the happy days are over, events take a wrong turn.
Sexuality is judged by the emotions of love, and love justifies its recklessness through dishonesty. Love and lust interchange their positions. Bisexuality becomes a norm in the nightworld of Paris. A svelte Giovanni appears as a beautiful angel to be devoured by rich old Parisians. For a moment he seemed akin to the Christ, sacrificing himself for the good of everyone he loved with his life. O Giovanni! The name itself tantalizes the hearts of the readers, sets their blood corpuscles on a wild run. I wonder how his golden skin glowed under the resplendent French sun!
Baldwin’s language is overflown with masculine sensuous flavour. He kept all the women characters at bay as if to him, it would have spoiled the fragrance. There is something peculiarly original in the novel which means it was not rudely impersonated. A true work of art bears the scars of the artist’s penance. In that case, GIOVANNI’S ROOM is full of open-mouthed wounds.
It is hard for a reader like me (who in life had never walked into a bar) to imagine a life in Paris with the bars and boozes. But I never felt disinterested in their daily activities except getting bored with David, Giovanni’s lover who does little more than asking money from his own father time and again. I have had a glimpse of Parisian life in the first half of 20th century from Earnest Hemingway’s THE SUN ALSO RISES of which I could not make a head or tail. (I have never been fond of Hemingway’s writing.) I was a little sceptical about Baldwin’s book while starting it because THE SUN ALSO RISES had already left me disappointing. Only in the middle, Baldwin had started sounding a little like Hemingway but soon he swept it under the carpet and finally ended on a high note. A wonderful read in the cozy noons of winter.
Read it under the sun.
Read it slow.
Feel Giovanni’s warmth caress your breath and watch him glow!