Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

This highly acclaimed book is nothing short of a delightful, truly American little quip of a read. Weighing in at just 100 pages, it manages to illustrate a host of characters, places and situations between so few pieces of paper it actually almost reads the way a movie feels: like a brief but very detailed... tangible glimpse into another person's world.

The novella's narrator is an incomplete character; his real name is ambiguous (I thought) and he seems to serve mainly as a voyeur of Holly Golightly's life. However there is more to him, for example in the opening line of the book: "I am always drawn back to places I have lived; the houses and their neighbourhoods." – we immediately start to build a sense of him, and that sense is pieced together throughout the novella in bits, though never quite making a whole. It is through this hazy character's eyes that the reader sees Miss Golightly, though in a slightly rose-tinted hue.

Holly Golightly is a young woman living alone in New York - hosting parties at her tiny (largely unfurnished) apartment, dancing in exclusive clubs with sailors, horse-riding in Central Park, and yes, dreaming of breakfast at Tiffany's. She is remarkable because, as this story was written in 1958, she lives in a time when women are not usually so outlandish. She is bold, smart, independent, beautiful and talented, although, like all the best characters, she is largely flawed and lost. She is on the run from a guilty past and, it seems, is quite trapped by the life and identity she has built herself in New York. She is secretive, even secretly secretive. She doesn't want to let on who she really is, and as such wears the many masks of the social butterfly (but wears them gloriously).

Truman Capote is arguably one of the best American writers of the latter 20th century, and in this - probably his most famous - novella, he demonstrates why with style, sensitivity and a precision of character betraying his astuteness. He maintains a great balance between aesthetics (which are a delight) and intellectual intrigue. The edition I picked up (above) also contained three of his short stories: House of Flowers, Diamond Guitar and A Christmas Memory, all of which adhere to what I've said about his writing and left an excellent impression on me – and a deep burning desire to read In Cold Blood, the praises of which I have heard sung endlessly by many friends! One for the bookshop amnesia list, methinks.

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