Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

GRThe world is full of rooms big rooms, little rooms, round rooms, square ones, rooms high up, rooms low down, – all kinds of rooms

 This book is a gay classic from a time of oppression. Oppression by straight society and the self-oppression of those who don’t fit in. It was published during 1950’s McCarthyism

 Forget ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ – one reviewer suggested that: the colours in which the story is written. It is painted in many and various and deep shades of grey — like a great charcoal “painting,” or a black & white photograph of a rainy day. In terms of great novels, ‘Giovanni’s Room’ for me is actually one that uses some of the darkest greys.

David is an American due to marry his fiancé upon her return from travelling in Spain, but meets the Italian barman Giovanni. He enjoys horsing around in showers. His father comes home drunk and never really talks to him. Maybe this is what makes him remote: Giovanni says he never reached him. Hella says the same later on. Giovanni says he is afraid of the ‘stink of love’

He is conflicted about his sexuality – ‘Pulled me down on bed – everything in me screaming no but the sum of me sighed.’ When leaving Giovanni’s room: war in my body dragging me down.

He remembers a boyish fumble during a sleepover.

The entire story is narrated by David during “the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life,” when Giovanni will be executed. He worries about Giovanni while under bridge and sees his face in newspaper as if looking directly at him asking for help

He sees Hella again after a long absence but takes her back to her hotel so as to join Jacques and Giovanni. He tells her ‘He was so beautiful.’ And when he sees Hella naked he wishes she were firmer

‘Faint heart never won fair athlete.’

‘I’m sure he sleeps with girls.’

‘You look like a five year-old kid who has woken up on Christmas morning.’

Woman he picks up giving herself not to me but to the lover who will never come

David’s old friend Jacques never really trusted anyone and never wish to love anyone with more than a body. David asks him if he can only kneel before an army of boys for five minutes in the dark and pretend that nothing is happening

‘You think my life is shameful because my encounters are.’

‘If you think they’re dirty, then they will be dirty…despising your flesh…can make your time together anything but dirty

The Seedy gay bar where Giovanni works has all the usual despairing eyes, the patrons called each other ‘she’. They: feel their poverty again, through the narcotics of chatter, dreams of conquest and mutual contempt.

Guillaume, who is murdered, is from an ancient family and is regarded as a ‘disgusting old fairy’

When there is a Police investigation, the clients of rent boys fear exposure. Giovanni is pout in the frame.

It’s vividly told – I can imagine the room in my head and it is the same room that I see when reading ‘Just Above My Head.’

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