I’ve always held this notion that there is such a thing as missed connections when it comes to novel-reading. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin is one such book for me–it is a deeply moving story in many ways, but I think its effect would’ve been more profound on me if I had read it when I was younger. Which means that the fault is mine and not the novel’s, of course.
Giovanni’s Room is a novel of claustrophobia, of physical smallness and emotional suffocation. The title refers to the rented Parisian room that an American expatriate named David shares with a bartender he meets at a gay bar. He is a typical example of the young, disaffected Americans who traipse around Paris in the post-war period, but his life takes a turn the moment Giovanni strikes a conversation with him. Passion is ignited in an instant, but while their mutual attraction is acknowledged and consummated early on, their happiness is far from assured.
In the hands of a more skilled prose writer, VL McDermid’s Final Edition could have been a pleasure to read. The premise itself is compelling: investigative journalist Lindsay Gordon returns to Scotland after a brush with the Secret Service sent her to self-exile. She immediately finds out that she’s been replaced by her girlfriend. Meanwhile, a close colleague of hers named Jackie Mitchell is in jail for the murder of the notorious Alison Maxwell, Lindsay’s former lover. When Lindsay is asked to prove Jackie’s innocence, she becomes involved in a sordid tale of blackmail and scandalous relationships that ultimately affects the life she is trying to rebuild.
Like I said, the set pieces are interesting. I like that the novel is trying to explore what it’s like to be a journalist in Glasgow and I like that it prominently features several lesbian characters with varied personalities and motivations. However, the dialogue is constantly clunky and expository, and the way Lindsay reacts to some events in the story borders on the shrill and self-righteous. Her stunt in trying to unveil the true identity of Alison Maxwell’s killer, for example, is downright ridiculous.
Slight spoilers after the jump.