I decided that while I was in Paris I would read a book that was based there. I had several hours to kill on the Eurostar and wanted something that wasn’t a holiday read and wasn’t a tome as I was only in Paris for 48 hours. I had bought The Hunchback of Notre Dame but didn’t think I would read it, I kind of wish I had stuck to my first thought, instead I bought the slim ‘Giovanni’s Room’ by James Baldwin. It sounded different, was a classic and apparently had once been a shocking novel in its time (1957).
It tells the tale of David a young man in Paris who far away from his family, and for a short time his girlfriend, decides to embrace his true homosexual feelings. He starts to frequent bars with a wicked friend and eventually meets Giovanni, one of the bartenders all the while knowing that one day his fiancée will be back from Spain.
What follows is a tale of lies, love and deception. David is a vile main character who’s utter selfishness leaves people in debt and ruins lives whilst breaking hearts. While I found the book quite fascinating the fact that this character was so vile made me really angry and I kept putting the book down as I was getting so exasperated, which on a nice holiday you don’t really aim for from your reading material. Sadly I think that tainted the book for me and when finished I was glad it was all over.
So yes a classic, shocking then but not some much now. I cannot fault Baldwin as an author his prose is brilliant and his descriptions of the late 1950’s Paris did stick with me as I walked around the city on several occasions. He also successfully created some very weird, wonderful and downright vile characters that stayed with me though not always for good reasons. I will be keeping this book as one day I am going to give it another go, only not when I am on holiday and trying to de-stress.