The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for not having a Valentine


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Ailment: Not having a Valentine

Cure: Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

However much you may abhor the shameless hawking of red hearts, roses and candle-light, it's a tough-skinned singleton who doesn't feel at least a twinge of regret at the lack of a significant other on Valentine's Day.

After all, who wouldn't prefer the thrill of new love than no love at all?

Avoid feeling sorry for yourself if you don't have a date by spending the evening with James Baldwin's tale of gay love. As romantic and as sorrowful as love stories come, it'll give you all the vicarious frissons of a love affair while reminding you of the pain and mess that can result when it all goes wrong.

An American in Paris, David is tall, blond and athletic. But he's not above calling up the lonely, effete Jacques – an acquaintance from the gay bar scene – and asking for money when he can't pay his hotel bill. Happy to have a good-looking younger man at his side, Jacques takes David for a drink and lays eyes on Giovanni, the striking new barman.

But it is David that Giovanni notices in return, and before long the two younger men are drawing everyone's gaze with the sparks of their physical – and emotional – attraction.

Few novels convey so well the excitement of the moment when two lovers meet and recognise where they're headed: the irresistible passion, the deep connection made joyful by a shared humour – all against the backdrop of Paris.

And running through it all is the inescapable, awful question of why, when life gives us something glorious, we find it so hard to say "Yes".

The more Giovanni bears his brave soul to David, the more David knows that, one day, he'll run back to Hella, the girl who can make him the son his father wants.