mark monday's Reviews > Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
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's review
Jun 14, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: queertime

poetic prose at its most yearning and beautiful. this could have been perfection, but it is a bit hard to ignore the underlying misogyny.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 14, 2007 – Shelved
October 20, 2010 – Shelved as: queertime

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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drowningmermaid I'm only just starting it, but I'm kinda getting the feeling that the misogyny goes hand in hand with the homosexuality... will have to read more.


message 2: by mark (last edited Jun 30, 2014 02:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday I don't think misogyny and homosexuality are automatically linked, quite the opposite much of the time. but there has been a virulent strain of misogyny that has reared its head from time to time in various homosexual male communities. transphobia as well. I am assuming (and hoping) such things are increasingly becoming a thing of the past.

as far as this novel goes, I don't think Baldwin himself is a misogynist. but this beautiful novel does have its issues, at least for me.


Hugo I also found it hard to ignore. But I think the novel redeems itself somewhat through the character Hella. She would say these really unfeminist things like:
"I’m not really the emancipated girl I try to be at all. I guess I just want a man to come home to me every night. (...) I want to be knocked up. I want to start having babies. In a way, it’s really all I’m good for.’ There was silence again. ‘Is that what you want?"
Which I feel was somewhat sarcastic. And then some other time she would confess how humiliating it is to be a woman and have to be dependent on men. I think she was struggling between at times wanting to be independent and other times just feeling like succumbing to society's pressure and taking comfort in a stable but suffocating relationship between a man and a woman (which contrasts with the unstable but exciting relationship between the two men).


mark monday Hugo, I like your analysis. I'm overdue to reread this one and it will be good to keep it mind during the rereading.


Nick Having just read the book I also like Hugo's analysis, but I think Baldwin thinks the more 'independent' side of Hella is the artificial construct, whereas the housewifery is a desire which stems from natural feminine qualities. Which is very dated but I feel we should let Baldwin off the hook.


mark monday you have provided me my ongoing reminder to re-read this book! I really need to do that. come on, mark, get with it already.


Nick You can read it in one sitting!


drowningmermaid You could listen to it on audio! (Audiobooks are great for re-reading, I find. I'm not as concerned about missing something if it's a re-read.)


mark monday ack, noooooo! I am trying to adjust my antipathy towards audio books, but the very idea of not being able to read and re-read and then re-read again different examples of Baldwin's beautiful prose style would defeat the whole point of re-reading it again. I still recall the narrative; I want to swoon over the brilliant prose on the page.

although perhaps it may be easier to digest the ideas in the book via audio book, since I wouldn't be so distracted by all of the glorious writing on display.


Amber Dunten Try it in audio, Mark. I'm finding it v. good, and the beautiful prose is quite evident. Re-reading in audio can be a whole different experience and quite wonderful. I highly recommend experiencing the same story two different ways. A little like reading the book AND watching the movie, but much, much better.


message 11: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday thanks for the recommendation, Amber. that sounds like a great idea.


lethe Have you re-read it yet? :)

I don't think misogyny and homosexuality are automatically linked, but it can often be seen in homosexual men who have not accepted themselves (internalized homophobia). There is a lot of self-loathing in David. I also see it in Somerset Maugham, for example.

So I agree with your assumption/hope that such things are increasingly becoming a thing of the past now that the attitude towards homosexuality is much more relaxed (at least in many countries) and gay men can generally be openly gay.


drowningmermaid I don't think misogyny and homosexuality are automatically linked, but it can often be seen in homosexual men who have not accepted themselves (internalized homophobia)..."

I was interested by the period-view of Giovanni's digust/dismissal of the flamboyantly queer, which he held as fundamentally different from their own, manly-gay relationship . . . How different times are!


lethe Indeed, although there are still (groups of) gay men who hold the view that flamboyant queens "ruin it for the rest of us" (in terms of acceptance). "Effeminate" is still seen as inferior to "straight-acting" (ugh).


drowningmermaid lethe wrote: "Indeed, although there are still (groups of) gay men who hold the view that flamboyant queens "ruin it for the rest of us" (in terms of acceptance). "Effeminate" is still seen as inferior to "strai..."

I guess it just depends on the type of homosexuality you embrace. But the gay community as a whole seems to have embraced the effeminate, FAHbulous queers, but at different times in history, and in different homosexuality has meant some VERY different things . . .


message 16: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday I agree with a lot of what you both are saying. fortunately as time goes on, effeminate gays are increasingly accepted both within and outside of the gay community, particularly by younger people. I'm sure that there are still many gays (let alone straights) who find effeminacy to be a problem. or more subtly but just as offensively, to be promoting a stereotype of some sort. as if acting outside of some (supposedly masculine) norm is even remotely problematic.

I see the same attitudes expressed about (and by) black people and other demographics who don't have any interest in fitting into mainstream (i.e. WASP) norms.

happily I don't know or work with any of those types of morons. well, maybe one, an essentially not-homophobic straight guy who says he's sick of "gay stereotypes" in reality tv casting. I think his problem is more that he watches too much reality tv!

and lethe... nope, have yet to reread it! one of these days.


Robin Hi Mark... I just read this and also noticed the misogyny that you mention in your pithy review. It didn't ruin the book for me, but was an unexpected element that had me scratching my head a bit.


message 18: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday yep, same here. just wish it hadn't been there at all.

I loved your review!


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