It is probably worth stating straight away that this book is here for being a great documentation of a break-up, and is probably just about the worst thing you could read in the midst of the experience of heartbreak – James Baldwin’s second novel, published in 1956, caused a great deal of controversy upon release for featuring explicit homosexual content.
The book is focused on David, an American living in southern France, as he reminisces about his ex-lover, the Italian Giovanni, set to be executed the next morning. Told primarily in flashback, it is a grim and deeply melancholic account of a doomed romance between the two men. As readers, we see the slightly stilted and awkward blossoming unfold and, as always with Baldwin’s incredible writing, the narrative becomes secondary to the constantly poetic beauty of the descriptions of locations and characters.
A cripplingly sad book about the need to closet yourself as a homosexual in the 1950s, Giovanni’s Room is a ferociously moving and almost perfectly written account of bleak memories, the frightening nature of time’s passing and romance that was meant to be, but simply couldn’t be. It isn’t a book for the emotionally light-of-heart, but it is a masterpiece by one of the greatest English language writers to ever live. Baldwin writes in a way that only the greatest poets can, breathing a distinct poetic realism into his stories across the board – Giovanni’s Room just happens to be one of his most moving works.