“…not many people have ever died of love. But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour – and in the oddest places! – for the lack of it.”
“Whoever has read James Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, or his collection of essays and sketches, Notes of a Native Son, knows him to be one of our gifted young writers. His most conspicuous gift is his ability to find words that astonish the reader with their boldness even as they overwhelm him with their rightness.
The theme of Giovanni’s Room is delicate enough to make strong demands on all of Mr. Baldwin’s resourcefulness and subtlety. We meet the narrator, known to us only as David, in the south of France, but most of the story is laid in Paris. It develops as the story of a young American involved both with a woman and with another man, the man being the Giovanni of the title. When a choice has to be made, David choose the woman, Hella.
“David tells the story on a single night, the night before Giovanni is to be guillotined as a murderer. He tells of his life in Giovanni’s room, of deserting Giovanni for Hella and of making plans to marry her, of the effect of this on Giovanni, and of the effect of Giovanni’s plight on his own relations with Hella. Mr. Baldwin writes of these matters with an unusual degree of candor and yet with such dignity and intensity that he is saved from sensationalism.
“Much of the novel is laid in scenes of squalor, with a background of characters as grotesque and repulsive as any that can be found in Proust’s Cities of the Plain. But even as one is dismayed by Mr. Baldwin’s materials, one rejoices in the skill with which he renders them. Nor is there any suspicion that he is working with these materials merely for the sake of shocking the reader. One the contrary, his intent is most serious. One of the lesser characters, in many ways a distasteful one, tells David that ‘not many people have ever died of love.’ ‘But,’ he goes on, ‘multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour–and in the oddest places!–for the lack of it.’ This is Mr. Baldwin’s subject, the rareness and difficulty of love, and, in his rather startling way, he does a great deal with it.”