By James Baldwin
Baldwin’s haunting and controversial second novel is his most sustained treatment of sexuality, and a classic of gay literature. In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself. After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his sexual identity as he oscillates between the two.
Examining the mystery of love and passion in an intensely imagined narrative, Baldwin creates a moving and complex story of death and desire that is revelatory in its insight. (Book Description Via Good Reads)
Year Published: 1956
Read and Reviewed: November 2013
I’m really not sure what I thought exactly. It was pretty confusing but that was about right since trying to figure out one’s sexuality can be really confusing. I think James Baldwin did a really good job of conveying the depth and the complexity of the confusion that comes along with questioning one’s sexuality.
I know I didn’t like most of the characters. David, the main character was kind of a jerk. At first, I could sympathize with him since being closeted is hard and it was pretty obvious that he did at one point love Giovanni. But he’s always guilty and he’s resenting Giovanni while claiming to be in love with him.
But then he cheats on Giovanni with Hella and vice versa. Then he leaves Giovanni for Hella, whom he thinks he’s in love with or at least pretending to be in love with so Giovanni can’t be with him any more. Then Giovanni goes completely nuts. He threatens to kill himself and then starts going out with one of the creepy rich old guys, Jacques.
Hella, the girl he leaves Giovanni for was really annoying. She basically talked about how she wasn’t a woman if she didn’t have a man. I wanted to slap some sense into her, I really did. The best thing she did was finally leave David.
I felt bad for Giovanni who ends up dying by the end of the book. He doesn’t kill himself or at least not intentionally. He kills his old boss Guillaume, who was trying to seduce him but also had fired him, assaulted him, and accused him of stealing money from his bar. He is caught for killing Guillaume and is executed. I think (and David admits this at the end) that Giovanni wouldn’t have killed Guillaume if David stayed with him.
Though the plot was rather strange, I did enjoy Baldwin’s style. I have been looking forward to reading this book for a while. It wasn’t what I expected at all but I think it was still decent in that it was a well told story though it was pretty depressing.
My rating: 4 stars (I upped the original rating since I got some very strong reactions from this book. I decided that reacting so much to a text was ultimately a good thing.)