Tuesday 15 November 2016

Mini-Review! - Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

Title: Giovanni's Room

Author: James Baldwin

Genre: Classics (Modern), LGBTQ+ (M/F; M/M)

Amazon: UK - USA


This was an exceptionally good book.

It will however tear your heart out and then show it to you. Yep. That is the level of feels we are dealing with here.


So, this about a young American, David, who gets involved with an Italian bartender, Giovanni, in Paris.

Apparently this book was controversial (to say the least) in the 1950s, when it was written, not only because it was about a romantic relationship between men, but also because it was a black author writing about white men.

And for that fact alone, you should read this.

Because James Baldwin refused to be restricted in the people he could write about - he refused to play it safe and only ever write about black people, as he was expected to.

(And you know me guys, I like a rebel!)

David, as a character, isn't all that likeable. Putting it plainly, he's a bit of a jerk.

But you can still see his perspective - he's a selfish jerk, but that's because of the internalised homophobia and ideas of masculinity that he won't let himself let go of.

And, in his own way, he really does love Giovanni. I'm not sure whether that makes things better or worse, you'll have to read it and decide for yourself.

But Giovanni... argh! He totally broke my heart. Like HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO HIM?!?! *Ahem.* Sorry.

There are a couple of issues with this book:

It can be very dismissive, to the degree of disgust, towards men who are perceived to be more feminine in their mannerisms. 

And it's very offensive to the transgender women who hang around the bar.

It actually describes them as disgusting, which is obviously NOT GOOD, and transphobic.

And the attitudes towards women wanting equality (I mean, how dare they?!) are clearly that of a narrow-minded, and fairly misogynistic, man from the 1950s. Sorry, I call them as I see them.

BUT, for all that: this is a good book. And it was an exceptionally important stepping stone for diversity.

I'm not giving it carte blanche for jerkiness, this book was written in the 1950s, and it bl**dy well shows.

But I will be looking out for more James Baldwin books - once I've recovered from the feels after what happened to poor Giovanni. *Sniffles*

Oh, and quick warning: there's a lot of implied sexual assault, and some implied rape.

There are also some male/female sex scenes. And I think there might've been swearing? Maybe? I really need to pay more attention to these things...

So that's Giovanni's Room - not a perfect book, by any means, but an important one, and largely worth the read - the writing is quality, and the offensiveness is annoying and harmful, but brief (thank God.)

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  1. I feel like I have to be in a serious mood for really sad books, otherwise I just feel so upset for the characters :(

    1. I know - it was like fgntjknhioetlmlh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Lol!

  2. You've been reading such good books lately! This is another one which sounds fantastic. And I love the history behind it, and how it was a man writing outside of the labels and restrictions he was given. I love how you always look into the background of the novels you are reading as well.

    1. Why thank you *bows elaborately.* I blame Naz @ readdiversebooks.com - he's def. diversified my reading! :)

  3. I still haven't read any James Baldwin books. How embarrassing! D:
    But I'd love for Giovanni's room to be the first. I already own a copy of Go Tell It To A Mountain, which I also hear is a great read. It's such a shame that the book is transphobic! I certainly wouldn't be able to forgive that no matter what decade it was written in. ;(

    1. I know, the transphobia is not forgivable - but the rest of the book is good. This is, unfortunately, another one of those cases where you have to fervently not ignore the bad, while at the same time accepting that this is a worthwhile book - though a deeply flawed one. It was such a stepping stone for queer lit that it deserves to be read for that alone - but read with eyes wide open.


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