Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote review

Hi everyone! One of my reading resolutions for 2018 is to read more classic fiction, as I used to devour it when I was younger but stopped reading it in my early twenties. However, I couldn’t wait for 2018 so I picked up Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. If you’ve read it or seen the 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn, you’ll know the story is set in New York in the 1940s. Our narrator recalls the time when he lived in a brownstone apartment building with a certain lady called Holly Golightly as his downstairs neighbour. He becomes inexplicably drawn to her and the more time they spend time together, the more of Holly’s secrets and desires are revealed. My edition also included three short stories by Capote, ‘House of Flowers’, ‘A Diamond Guitar’ and ‘A Christmas Memory’ (appropriate for the season).

I enjoyed the novella, and may slightly prefer it to the film. The character of Holly Golightly is a joy to read. She is a bundle of contradictions, both not wanting to be tied down or put in a cage yet desperately seeking a place to call home, and her vunerability makes her sympathetic. The longing to find a place for herself in the world also makes her very relatable, despite her many escapades mentioned in the story. They seem far-fetched and foolhardy but you can’t help but find yourself wishing she would succeed. Her relationship with her brother Fred is incredibly touching, despite him never actually appearing, and when you realise his fate it is a painful moment for both Holly and the reader.

One of the differences between the novella and the film is how the narrator (nameless here but Holly calls him Fred) is portrayed. In the book he is in many ways a non-entity, a mere device which the reader uses to catch a glimpse of the ridiculous life of Holly Golightly. He is a writer though he doesn’t discuss his work a lot, preferring to talk about his neighbour even when they aren’t on speaking terms. While in the film he is upgraded to a romantic lead, in the novella he is almost like an everyman, a contrast to Holly and her flightiness who cannot comprehend some of her actions but is drawn to her anyway.

Reading Capote’s characterisation was delightful but his prose was simply stunning. His imagery in particular was beautiful, vividly evoking the brownstone and streets of New York. Some of his similes and metaphors were amazing, so simple observations that I’m surprised I didn’t think of them before now. He creates this world so well that even if you have never been to the Big Apple, you can imagine yourself poundings its pavements. While Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a very straightforward, simple story, Capote’s writing elevates it to another level.

The short stories however were a mixed bag for me. ‘House of Flowers’ tells the story of Otillie, a young woman living in Port-Au-Prince who falls in love with a man called Royal. I liked the first half of the story but I felt it fell down by the end. The conclusion was a bit ludicrous and did leave a bad taste in my mouth. The ghostly aspects just felt out of place. I got on a bit better with ‘A Diamond Guitar’ which is about the relationship between two men in a prison. While Capote’s writing prowess is on full display here, I felt the characterisation was lacking. This felt a little bit too short, and another couple of pages dedicated to the two men might have made me care for them more than I did. My favourite hands down was the last one, ‘A Christmas Memory’. It is the story of two distant cousins, one a young boy the other an old lady, and their Christmas routine. I found this incredibly touching and poignant. The lovely characters and the beautiful prose made this a great end to the collection.

Overall I really enjoyed Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The characterisation, particularly of Holly, is excellent. However it is Capote’s writing that impressed me the most. His prose is almost lyrical in places and is beautifully evocative. While I understand why these particular short stories were included, all sharing similar themes to the novella, they felt a bit flat for me. I am glad to have read them but I would prefer to read some of the author’s longer narratives in the future. If you would like an introduction to Capote’s writing or simply have a case of the mean reds, you should check out Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is published by Penguin and you can find more info here.

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