Friday, October 10, 2014

Review: Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An awful book about awful people being awful to each other...With the worst of the bunch narrating the whole unhappy affair in a whiny, navel-gazing voice.

Let me begin with an interesting (to me) side note: There is a somewhat famous gay bookstore in Philadelphia called Giovanni's Room. I've never been, but heard about it when it nearly closed it's doors recently and there was a push in LGBT circles to save it. I gathered from what I heard of the bookstore (and from the crusade itself) that the bookstore had long provided a sort of haven for the local gay community--a safe place to gather and, of course, explore gay fiction and poetry. That led me to believe that the book Giovanni's Room would be about a refuge that allowed two men to explore their attraction to one another.

Now, having read the book, I wonder if the people who opened the bookstore and named it Giovanni's Room had read the book. In the book, the room is a sort of nadir of cosmic horror and repulsion. It acts on those who enter it in a palpably malevolent fashion, crushing them between it's dank and dirty, claustrophobia-inducing walls. It drives one of the men, ultimately to murder. In fact, now that I'm really considering the story, I guess what I'd most liken it to would be one of the early Lovecraft tales--you know, where not much actually happens, but the author paints a word picture of man's futile struggle against an either malevolent or indifferent universe. Giovanni's room (the place in the book, not the bookstore, nor the book itself) is like dreaming Cthulhu or, better yet, Azathoth.

Was it well-written? Most assuredly. Baldwin knows his way around prose. And he occasionally uses colons to off-set his dialogue tags, which I also like to do, but which has recently become something of a no-no, apparently. But the story could never rise to the level of the words telling it.

Reading the other reviews I'm honestly wondering if I didn't read some other book! Another check on my "501 Must Read Books" List that fails to live up to the hype.

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