I hadn’t realised that Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s was a novella – only 100 pages in my sweet little pink Popular Penguin. Not that I’m complaining. Brief is good for me right now.
This particular edition also contained three more short stories by Capote – House of Flowers, A Diamond Guitar and A Christmas Memory.
There’s probably not much more I can say about the actual story of Breakfast at Tiffany’s that hasn’t already been said. Yes, the book is different to the movie. Capote clearly tells us that Holly has ‘boy’s hair, tawny streaks, strands of albino-blonde and yellow‘, yet it is impossible to read this story now without Audrey Hepburn in mind.
The book is seedier, grittier and less romantic than the movie. But in both, Holly comes across as being extremely young and naive (she loves Wuthering Heights after all – the ultimate symbol of young, naive passion). She’s looking for love and belonging in all the wrong places. She allows herself to become a kept woman and keeps everyone at arm’s length, even the cat.
She’s described as being a phony (although a ‘real phony. She believes all this crap she believes‘) and a liar. I’d like to say she was at least true to herself, but that was the part she hadn’t worked out yet. She was still searching; trying on different parts; hoping, wishing, longing for something more or something different.
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.
You’re left hoping, that Holly will one day, like the cat, stop running and find a home where she feels that she belongs.
The other three stories are much slighter and quite different in tone and subject matter. I guess you could say that they represent a good cross-section of Capote’s writing style, except the sum total of my knowledge about Capote’s work is now contained in these four stories. So what would I know!
House of Flowers (1950) is set in Haiti featuring a young girl, Ottilie, who has found her way into prostitution. Like Holly, she longs to know what love is and to feel a sense of belonging. For Ottilie this means returning to the Mountains of her childhood and facing the hostility of an older, dying woman. The story seems to be about the battle for power between the two women, with the younger coming off the ultimate winner. Her old life is quickly forgotten as the age-old juggle/struggle for power begins with her new husband. This story was turned into a 1954 Broadway musical (I kid you not!) that Capote wrote with Harold Arlen.
By the time I had got to the end of A Diamond Guitar (1950), I realised that love and belonging were major themes for Capote. I also found a sense of nostalgia and yearning prevalent in all of his pieces. This one is a prison story – not one of those harsh, cruel prison stories full of depraved beings, on both sides of the wire – but one that focused on friendship, longing and memory with just a gentle hint of gay love. I believe the genre for this one is Southern gothic!
The final story, A Christmas Memory (1956), is apparently an American classic, but one I have never heard of before. A quick google revealed that there was an autobiographical element to the story, which made it more interesting and enlightening. Capote’s writing was obviously his way of searching for the love and belonging that was missing from his childhood. This reminded me that the only thing I had known about Capote before reading these stories was his childhood friendship with Harper Lee. Apparently Sook, the elderly cousin that featured in this Christmas story, was befriended by Capote during this same time.
I could leave the world with today in my eyes.
I love bookish moments of serendipity. I’m currently reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Capote’s descriptions of Sook made me smile and gave me an instant affection for her.
Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar. A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate, too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!
I’m not sure if other countries produced pink popular penguins, but in 2013 Penguin Australia teamed with the McGrath Foundation to help raise money for Breast Care Nurses in communities all around Australia.
Glenn McGrath was a prominent Australian cricketer a number of years ago. His wife Jane sadly died of breast cancer in 2008. She was only 42. They started the McGrath Foundation together in 2005. Currently 117 Breast Care Nurses have been placed in various communities around Australia.