Book Review Rewind: Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Recently, I mentioned that although I can’t seem to get into the review-writing vibe, I do have a backlist of older reviews originally posted at Goodreads, my local library’s summer reading reviews board, or elsewhere.  As I am not really feeling much love for Goodreads at present, due to the recent reviewer censorship drama (in which I was not involved) I am slowly pulling my reviews from the site, and as I’ve never posted my non-speculative fiction reviews on a blog, this seems like a good time to do so.

 

First up is Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (1958,) which I originally read and reviewed in December 2011.  Although I went in with low-to-moderate expectations due to the fluffy movie adaptation, I ended up very pleasantly surprised, giving the book 5/5.

This was really entertaining. As many others have noted before me, it is quite different from the movie adaptation. It is not only much darker, but more believable. The movie is a fun romp, but the book is another animal, and I feel it is a much deeper, nuanced, and all-around better story than the one told in the movie, as well.

In the film, Holly Golightly is quirky and likable. Audrey Hepburn has that effect on a role. In the book, Holly is certainly quirky, but hardly likable. She is a user of people, a habitual liar, deeply selfish, and often a bitch. The unnamed narrator falls for her like the domino he is (although he seems to have little romantic interest in women…Even he loves Holly G.) and is as readily swept off the board, with all the other easy, disposable pieces.

Holly isn’t exactly a classic femme fatale, as she doesn’t seem to actually wish her victims ill. She is simply so…careless and uncaring. She inspires in others (especially men) a desire to protect her, to care for her, worry over her, worship her. Holly uses men for money or security (physical and emotional,) sleeps around with no care for the emotions of anyone, mistreats her female pal (who mistreats her right back), abandons everyone who trusts her… There is very little to like here, but oh, she’s certainly pretty! And charming! And surprising in her talents and ability to morph into whatever a person wants her to be…for a while. She wraps the world around her little finger and then is dismissive when it takes offense. The irony is that she honestly believes she’s a good egg and a misunderstood soul; she’s convinced even herself, charmed even herself into believing she’s always honest with herself. She is fiercely loyal to one person only: herself, and the rest of the world be damned. This is the story of the world’s most charming and adorable psychosis. (I’d cast Zooey Deschanel for the lead in a true-to-the-book modern reboot. Can she play full-of-secrets-and-broken-to-the-core? I’ll bet she could.)

So…an interesting character study from a truly stellar writer. Truman Capote has a laser-like ability to expose the hidden layers of his characters, and considering when this book was written, his frankness must have been a bit shocking to many a reader. Is it any wonder Hollywood used Capote’s scaffolding to fashion a completely inverted story for the film? The original story isn’t very “feel-good”. (An example: In the film, one famous scene shows a boiserous party at Holly’s apartment, couples carousing and having fun, quirky situations ensuing. But in the book, the party is Holly and a bunch of men, competing for her attentions, each man thinking he alone had been invited to her rooms. She sets herself up as a queen on a tenuous throne and lets the boys sweat it out. In the book, her female acquaintance shows up and steals some of the boys’ attentions…so she spreads cruel innuendo to turn them off the competition. In the film, this same pal is a drunken, pushy, classless lout…no competition at all, and no need for Holly to show her cruel side. Example 2: Can you envision Audrey Hepburn’s Holly screaming at a kitty cat to “Fuck off!”?) And what a good name he’s chosen for his creature: Golightly, as she moves flittingly, fleetingly, almost ghostlike through others’ lives, coming and going again with the changing winds.

I think Capote would agree that Holly must always have the last word when telling her story, so I’ll close by letting her tell her tale as only she can:

“I’ve thrown away my horoscopes. I must have spent a dollar on every goddamn star in the goddamn planetarium. It’s a bore, but the answer is good things only happen to you if you’re good. Good? Honest is more what I mean. Not law-type honest – I’d rob a grave, I’d steal two-bits off a dead man’s eyes if I thought it would contribute to the day’s enjoyment – but unto-thyself-type honest. Be anything but a coward, a pretender, an emotional crook, a whore. I’d rather have cancer than a dishonest heart.”

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