This is the second book of Truman Capote’s I felt compelled to read. I love the Audrey Hepburn film – Perhaps even more after reading the book…
Title: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Author: Truman Capote
Date published: 1958
In this seductive, wistful masterpiece, Truman Capote created a woman whose name has entered the American idiom and whose style is a part of the literary landscape. Holly Golightly knows that nothing bad can ever happen to you at Tiffany’s; her poignancy, wit, and naïveté continue to charm.
First things first, this novella is a teeny slice of book at only 178 pages. What’s astonishing is that it feels completely right at that length – there’s an element (one that I think comes from the narrators attitude) of that being enough. We’re narrated a snapshot of Holly’s life, no more and no less than anyone else experiences from her, and in that time learn not only to love her character but to accept flaws that we may not perceive in the same way from any other character in any other book. Its structure is so cleverly intertwined with its story and its message that you don’t even really realise its nuances when you read it for the first time.
The narrator is a character who insights intrigue from the very first page because he writes himself to be irrelevant. We know almost nothing about the unnamed storyteller and as it unfolds it’s interesting to see how differently he is portrayed in the film. He is often read as a homosexual; an observation that didn’t fit the romantic Hollywood ending we know and love from the film. Capote writes “If a man doesn’t like baseball, then he must like horses, and if he doesn’t like either of them, well, I’m in trouble…he don’t like girls.” The narrator fails to correct Holly on this point and readily admits to “pretending an interest” in the books on these subjects he observes in her apartment leaving a lingering suspicion in the reader with regards to his sexuality.
The way it’s written is simply flawless and is full of these kinds of nuances of language – there were so many points in it that made me wish I’d written it, or even had been minutely involved in its conception. Unfortunately I wasn’t even an idea, let alone born, when Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s and so, when I think about it, it’s remarkable that I found the narrative so poignant and relevant. Of course some of it was specific to the time in which it was written (notable parts include war references and racist remarks) but the sentiment remains the same and I was completely engrossed from cover to cover.
The tone isn’t what you’d expect either, it’s barely even a romance. This Holly is a lot more gritty and whilst she retains the naivety and spontaneity of her cinematic counterpart, she’s a bit more fierce and a lot more crass. It feels a little like her ‘glamour’ is more the perception of the narrator and that, in reality, she’s a complete ‘wild-thing’, skinny and not actually a damsel in need of saving. When written the novella was actually considered too risqué for Harper’s Bazaar and the like; Capote published it with Esquire magazine in the end. This is because *possible spoiler* Holly is considered by many readers to have been both a bisexual and a prostitute (though this is not expressly indicated.) Aside from that phrases like this were also considered to be obscene: “people couldn’t help but think I must be a bit of a dyke myself. And of course I am.Everyone is: a bit. So what? That never discouraged a man yet, in fact it seems to goad them on.’
She is a deeply complex character – and has a kind of Sister Carrie vibe about her. She’s striving to reach this goal of fame and fortune almost entirely because it’s what she believes it means to be successful. She can’t see that the glitz and glam of Hollywood isn’t the key to happiness for her and at times it can be quite sad to read that struggle. Conversely though she’s a complete winner in terms of sexual freedom and female liberation; something that’s definitely switched out in the film version. She doesn’t just dismiss the cult of domesticity – she just decides, after trying it, that it’s really not for her and in the 1940s setting that’s a particularly admirable choice for a young woman to make. She’s a growing shadow of the ‘New Woman’ she’s even got quite the foul mouth at times!
Of course the Holly Golightly we know from Cinema is much more glamorous than all that but I don’t think the film is wrong for presenting her that way. In the book Holly doesn’t ever go inside Tiffany’s which, whilst sad, has got to be intrinsically tied to the whole point of Capote’s story. For Holly, Tiffany’s was an ultimately unattainable dream; so much of what she showed the world was superficial that it really wouldn’t make much sense at all for her to actually go inside Tiffany’s.
But anyway I’ve rattled on about this long enough. If you’re looking for a book that you’ll finish feeling warm and happy inside don’t go for this one right now. However, if you don’t mind the feeling of loss you’ll experience when you finish it I implore you to give it a chance. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read and shouldn’t take you more than an afternoon.
I really love this book…
Here’s some food for thought or , at least, something to consider before you start comparing the book and the film:
“A film adaptation creates a new story; it is not the same as the original, nor should it be considered as such”
4 out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
If you have any other suggestions or insights feel free to message me or leave them in the comments section below!
– Cat –