A Room With a View

Halfway through “Giovanni’s Room”. End of Part 1.

[Debby titles blog: “A Room with a View”]

Tim: Hahahaha well, I’m not sure we’ve gotten too much of a view (in that sense at least) although I guess you could call that scene in the diner at the end of part 1 a room with The View.

Debby: What can I say, it was the first thing that popped into my head! I certainly had no expectations for what this book would be like. Or what it would be about. “Giovanni’s Room” is only 169 pages long, so given its brevity I expected to dive right into a story. The book feels very novella-esque, in that the characters are quite rich, but the story is simple, compact, and leaves you with an impression rather than a grand scope. My initial “view” was of delight: Baldwin’s protagonist is an American living in Paris– a scenario lending both romance and loneliness to the initial plot. The mood is heavy, every character feels rather grimy, but the view is still, in my opinion, greatly alluring.

Tim: Absolutely. But isn’t it so interesting the way Baldwin brings us into this narrative. The book starts with a voice that’s sort of vaguely ruminating in the present tense before launching into a personal history and then coming around to the story it means to tell. And then – like you said – so simple. We’re halfway through the book, and aside from a few peripheral events that have been more hinted at than discussed, the entire narrative has taken place in one night (and morning, I suppose.)

Debby: I like how you used the term “peripheral”… this book seems to focus on various activities, but not on the main event. Obviously, Giovanni’s impending doom has been referenced since the first page, but there has not been a single direct, comprehensive statement about it the rest of the time. This night at the bar, the memories of high school, David’s interaction with his father, all of those things are on the periphery. In fact, it seems to me that David feels his entire life is lived in the periphery– he always seems to be missing something both in his core and in his surroundings.

Tim: Yes, and the other thing about them is that they only feel marginally important. Or at least the ideas are important, but not the events themselves. Well…actually I’m not sure I believe that, because the events of a troubled childhood do seem like they’d be significant. But then, it’s a troubled childhood like any other, so are the particulars of it that important, or just the oeuvre they’re building up around the character? Help me, I’m arguing myself in circles.

Debby: I wish I had a life raft for you, but you’re absolutely right: it is impossible to say whether it is thoughts or events that are more important. I mean, remember “The Emperor’s Children”? Several times we addressed how the parents were to blame for the faults of their children, yet we’ve also seen how children grow into adults who can overcome certain issues. It is unfeasible to point to one life event and say “this is the most important thing in this person’s life”, because who knows what it will inspire said person to do?

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