Book Review

Another Country by James Baldwin

another hagiography on Baldwin as scott packs up his north american life

May 16th, 2022, Toronto

It’s almost nine o’clock and I’m at work, sat in a subterranean office while I wait for the event happening upstairs to dwindle and end so I can wrap things up and leave.

This is my last week in this job and, as happens, my responsibilities have dwindled and withered over the past few weeks to the point where I am almost redundant before I am unemployed.

I don’t have a job waiting for me in the UK, and I don’t really think I want one. Having a job is just so fucking annoying, y’know?

It’s just such an absolutely colossal drain on one’s time, on the hours available to us to live. I’ve been used to working 50/60 hour weeks whenever I’ve worked, and it’s not a coincidence that the happiest periods of my life have always been those where I worked (for money) the least but maintained a firm focus on a long term project, i.e. my MA year 2013-2014 and 2018, the year I spent writing and writing and romancing and travelling and teaching English in Spain for six months. It was wonderful, and I did do some work during that time, enough work, and I also got together the texts for my two books published by Broken Sleep, both of which I’m very proud of and both of which remain – in my opinion – woefully under-read by the world at large.

I write great books: I took the opportunity yesterday to film myself reading on the stage of the theatre I’ve been managing here in Toronto and that was the first time I’d reread the pleasure of regret since the real life person Frank DuBois is based on read that essay and then never said a word and I’d allowed myself to worry that maybe that book wasn’t as excellent as I’d felt it was at the time. But no, no, it’s a wonderful book. Sad, optimistic, hopeful, regretful, wistful, but also really, genuinely, happy, in places, as I remember the unequivocal pleasure I found in making friends with my favourite people half my lifetime ago.

It’s strange to be so old.

It’s strange to have been away from London for three and a half years and nothing, really, nothing has really changed at all for me.

I’ve bought some new clothes, I’ve continued to read, but… I dunno.

I’ll have to reassess my unexpected early thirties immigrant experience when it’s all a little further in the rear view mirror.

I’m ready to move on from this, yes. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready for London.

///

It’s been a few days since I finished reading Another Country, James Baldwin’s third novel (originally published in 1962) and in the interim I have already gone out and bought two more James Baldwin books AND downloaded an audio book that is 19 hours of recordings of Baldwin reading at various events. It is fair to say that, when reading James Baldwin, there is nothing else that I would like to be doing.

There is nothing else like reading James Baldwin.

There is something in his prose that just hits the human body right in the solar plexus and there is a feeling, a buzz, a high, that comes from the wallop of emotionality and characterisation his fiction contains that can’t really be found elsewhere very often at all.

This novel took me longer to read that I would have expected from its size, but that came very much from its power: Another Country is so perfect, so beautiful, so harrowing, that it is not something to be guzzled and consumed like junk food.

This is prose, this is fiction, that is so pointed and vibrant and alive that it is, truly, deserving of rapt attention and difficult to read without providing that.

Baldwin captures the pains and the realities, the joys and the pleasures, of life in a way that is fucking unparalleled, and reading his fiction is not the same as reading other people’s: this is what fiction is trying to do, Baldwin writes a sentence, evokes a person, a life, a moment, with such clarity and poignancy that one cannot help but stare.

There are ripples from Baldwin’s prose that stretch into the psyche, that take root and blossom and flower.

The time it takes to sit with and digest his narratives and his gorgeous fucking prose is twice as much as for a duller prose stylist; it is fiction that holds every fucking moment of your attention when reading it: Baldwin is too good to be read when distracted or busy or not in the mood to read: Another Country is not something to pick up and flip thru on a rainy train-ride or whatever, it is a book that is difficult to open if one isn’t prepared to fall, Jumanji-like, into a different world that won’t let you out until it is ready to let you out.

///

I cycled home while listening to James Baldwin talk. I mixed myself a late night drink and gluttonously ate a needless snack, rendering the hour I spent on a treadmill this morning all but pointless.

I think about Another Country and I wonder if there is a purpose to me summarising its plots; the protagonist shifts from section to section, through a friend group as they deal with racism and its effects on interracial relationships (both romantic and not), as well as intercultural (i.e. an American & a French person) ones.

It’s a novel about sex and sexuality, about love and art and culture and music and literature and travel and family and ambition and regret and shame and lust and fun and despair and New York and Paris and the south of France and jazz bars and dive bars and swanky apartments and near-hovels.

It’s a novel about reinvention and the failure to do so, about how people who seem like the most important people not just in your life but in the whole world sometimes just disappear, are just gone… it’s about loss and about gains, about money and pride, about abuse and addiction and failure and success, it’s a fucking phenomenal novel and, as I often do, highly recommend you read every scrap of James Baldwin you can get your hands on.

2 comments on “Another Country by James Baldwin

  1. So many of the scenes in ANOTHER COUNTRY remain absolutely indelible – those people are so strong, so forceful, that memories of reading the book begin to feel like one’s own memories. The love scenes between Eric and Vivaldo particularly haunt – the sense of impossible longing, and the anger over the impossibility, just fucking HURTS to read, and the reader feels the pain of the chasm between men and women, between men and men, and between people who have been told they are different “races.” Thanks for letting me think about the book again. Where ought I start with your stuff? THE PLEASUE OF REGRET?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s such an incredible novel – absolutely what all novels should be aiming for! Flawless. God, I love Baldwin. I still have a few of his books yet to read for the first time, each one is just so good. His writing is so resonant and powerful, somehow both prescient and timeless. I hope the way people think and write about him continues on its current trajectory! And thank you for your interest in my writing – yes, the pleasure of regret is probably the best place to start – I recently reread the entire thing for the first time since it was published so I can confirm it still reads (in my biased opinion!) very well!

      Like

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