Saturday, 27 April 2013

Truman Capote- Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's
Penguin Modern Classics
Truman Capote
1958

“You call yourself a free spirit, a "wild thing," and you're terrified somebody's gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you're already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it's not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It's wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.” 

I had high hopes for my first venture in to the writings of legendary American author Truman Capote, but even then I wasn't expecting to be so thoroughly entranced by the style, charm and poignancy of the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's. I began the book without any real knowledge of the story or the author. I haven't seen the incredibly iconic 1961 cinematic adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn, I haven't read anything else by Capote, and I haven't seen the Oscar-nominated 2005 Capote biographical film. I did, however, have certain expectations regarding the style of prose, characters and locale, generally based around my impression of American literature of the mid-twentieth century- but also partially from the intensely memorable and stylish black and white images of Audrey Hepburn from the film.

At barely more than one hundred pages long, Breakfast at Tiffany's felt disappointingly short as I finished it, but that was merely a testament to its quality. Capote declines to give his narrator a real name and portrays him as a struggling writer, living in a modest brownstone apartment in Manhattan, It's also hinted that he's gay (which, if I may digress, allows the events of the novella to carry on in the manner that they do, in contrast to the plot of the Hollywood adaptation that I just read) , a series of attributes that resemble Capote's own. It's a simple touch, but served to enhance the realism of these characters in my mind.

Truman Capote
It's through his habitation that the narrator encounters the inimitable Holly Golightly, who shares an apartment in his building. At first he knows only of her reputation, as a New York society girl of immense beauty and popularity, but their first encounter leads to a deep friendship and understanding. It's important that our narrator, or 'Fred' as Holly calls him, doesn't fall in love with her, but is so drawn in by her magnetic, feline personality that he pursues her attention and becomes her confidant. It's through these one hundred pages of Holly's trials and tribulations that I fell in love with the character, as Capote sets his characters against a tumultuous backdrop of events caused by Holly's uncontrollable spirit leading to the eventual bittersweet conclusion.

The strength of characterisation and dialogue was so strong throughout the story that it felt to me like an autobiographical look into a brief, real section of the lives of real people. That might sound obvious and a goal of any good story, but it's not something I ever experience with such purity as I did with Breakfast at Tiffany's. Upon finishing the book I couldn't resist reading the plot of the film, and even though I'll have to see it at some point (and I'll probably enjoy it), I don't like the sound of it.

I'm a huge fan of mid-twentieth century American literature, and reading this novel was one of those reading experiences that shall stick with me forever. It's a case of both tons of style and some serious substance as Capote delicately carves a masterpiece with each word he writes. He's clearly too unique to be so easily compared to some of my current favourites (though I'm going to do it anyway) such as Bukowski, Vonnegut or Auster, but his sense of place and relevance in the pantheon of fiction in general is set in concrete for this blogger. I'll be grabbing anything and everything by Capote I see from now on.