Hello, Friday! First Lines Friday is a feature on my blog in which I post the first lines from a book I am interested in reading, either a new release or a backlist title! For the next several Fridays, I will be featuring titles I am going to hopefully read as part of my 12 Decades/12 Months/12 Books challenge (#12decades12books). I bought, like a lot of people I think, Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris last April when the Notre-Dame Cathedral caught fire, but like a lot of my purchases, I didn’t read this right away, even though I kept looking at it. I have started reading it now and am looking forward to taking my time with it, especially because I have a lot of time to fill! This is from the John Sturrock translation (ISBN: 978-0-140-44353-0).
Three hundred and forty-eight years, six months and nineteen days ago today, the people of Paris awoke to hear all the church-bells in the triple enclosure of the City, the University and the Town in full voice.
Not that 6 January 1482 is a day of which history has kept any record. There was nothing noteworthy about the event that had set the burgesses and bells of Paris in motion from early morning. It was not an assault by Picards or Burgundians, it was not a reliquary being carried in procession, it was not a student revolt in the vineyard of Laas, it was not an entry by ‘our most redoubtable Lord Monsieur the King’, it was not even a fine hanging of male and female thieves on the gallows of Paris. Nor was it the arrival, so frequent in the fifteenth century, of an embassy, in all its plumes and finery. It was barely two days since the last cavalcade of this kind, that of the Flemish ambassadors charged with concluding the marriage between the dauphin and Marguerite of Flanders, had made its entry into Paris, much to the annoyance of Monsieur the Cardinal of Bourbon, who, to please the king, had had to put on a smile for this uncouth mob of Flemish burgomasters, and entertain them, in his Hotel de Bourbon, with a ‘very fine morality, satire and farce’, as driving rain drenched the magnificent tapestries in his doorway.
So far, I’ve found this translation to be good and easy to read, and I can’t wait to spend more time with it!
Title: Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
Published by Penguin Books
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Format: Mass Market
People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen forget.
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.
Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin, follows a brief episode of David, an American living in Paris who is desperately trying to figure out who he is, to himself and to the world. David meets Giovanni through an old man’s acquaintance, and he goes home with Giovanni. In poetic, lyrical language, Baldwin explores the nature of love juxtaposed with David’s idea of love. David’s idea of love clashes with his expression and exploration of love, which eventually culminates in an emotionally heart-wrenching separation.
I’ve often seen this book on lists of best gay novels, but this novel goes beyond a stark black-and-white view of homosexuality. Baldwin explores bisexuality in both David and Giovanni and how each of the two men come to terms with their emotions. David is presented as rather cool and logical, succumbing to his emotions but logically pilfering through them after. Giovanni’s behavior appears to be purely emotional and irrational at times, contrasting against David’s eventual cool behavior to Giovanni. Giovanni is that character who wants to live life to its fullest, no matter the cost to himself or anyone else. David is the sort of character that will risk it, but not too much, because David, in the end, is one who preserves himself above all else, even if it means giving up love.
David, unlike Giovanni, has a plan, knows his role back home in American society, and cannot deal with something so “extra” as a male lover. His fiancée Hella is off traveling in Spain, presumably with her own lovers, and her return to David is his savior on the horizon, a means by which he can escape back into a comfortable, unquestioning existence.
This novel not only about gay/bisexual love, but about the complexities of the emotion all together.
This short novel is heartbreakingly beautiful and tragic and should be on your reading list if you’ve not yet read it.