Revisiting favourites: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin & In the Woods by Tana French

These past two weeks have been somewhat chaotic. I have moved countries, then moved cities after moving to another country, then had to find a house in a city like Mumbai -which is enough make one’s head reel. I suspect it will take me some time to get used to this place. Meanwhile I am trying to get back to my blogging and have some sort of a schedule to it.

This week I revisit two more of my favourites which have left an impact on me.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin


(Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942, Art Institute of Chicago. Somehow Edward Hopper’s paintings remind me of the sense of alienation and loneliness that the narrator feels in the book.)

Having read this quite some time ago, the details of the plot are lost to me now, but what still remains so strongly in my memory is the aching beauty and the bleakness of it.

This is the story of David who escapes his home in America to find himself in Paris as it was the norm in the 50s, but instead of finding himself he loses touch with himself more and more. This is about what repression of one’s sexual  identity does to you psychologically, especially if the said identity doesn’t match with the social norms and the majority.

Having found love in Giovanni, the Italian bartender, who challenges his notions, David finds himself conflicted and torn between convention and love. You feel frustrated with David for his imprisonment of himself; at the same time, you remember this is what it must feel like – struggling against your very core and very desires to fit in with the society, the terror of being isolated from the world and the terror of being ridiculed. The quiet desperation of this struggle is something that permeates to the reader, making one feel that suffocation of being unable to express yourself and the hatred of oneself for something that you cannot control. It made me feel utterly miserable at the time, but I loved every moment of it. It’s remarkable that in a few pages, the author portrays so much beauty and humanity.

In the Woods by Tana French


For much of my childhood and teenage, I was an obsessed lover of mysteries – from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Mystery Series to Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie, until I fell out of love with them as I found the contemporary police procedurals too shallow, predictable and lacking in resonance. That is until I found Tana French. There is a pattern to the kind of suspense novels or shows I like now – that they are essentially explorations of human motivations and of what a traumatic event does to relationships and so on – more of a psychological study, less of an action packed procedural. This is what In the Woods does.

In the Woods is the story of Detective Adam Ryan. There are two parts to the story – one that explores the trauma of losing his two best friends when he was a child in the woods and his inability to remember what happened; and another is the investigation into the case of a dead girl found in the same woods. The current case brings back his trauma and guilt of being unable to revive his memories or to find an answer to what happened. Like everyone else, I found the old mystery more fascinating than the new one. There’s something that haunts the reader throughout as you keep thinking – what could have happened? How was Adam involved and why was he left behind? There are no clear answers in this book, but it’s worth it just for the beauty of Tana French’s prose and her exploration into the anatomy of guilt.

(By Misha)


3 Comments Add yours

  1. In the Woods is my favourite French novel – beautifully written.


    1. Misha says:

      Yes, it is! Have you read her latest? What did you think about it? Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I liked The Trespasser, Antoinette is a great character.

        Liked by 1 person

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