Friday, March 4, 2016

Review: Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany'sBreakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Of course we're all familiar with Breakfast at Tiffany's: the sprightly, adorable protagonist, her impish ways, and the cast of characters she draws to her like moths to a guttering flame. The movie is adored, revered, had songs written about how it's one thing a fighting couple can agree on. But if you've only seen the movie without reading the book, you have a very different view of the story.

The Holly Golightly our unnamed narrator follows about is a darker creature than the one portrayed by Audrey Hepburn. She's not mean, precisely, but she has a carefully constructed detachment that amounts to the same thing. The narrator watches her push away those who care about her, and embrace those who see only the persona she projects. The movie Holly seems to charm the money right out of mens' wallets; the one in the book has to work for it. The Holly in the movie projects an aura of cool sophistication, while the narrator of the book sees through his Holly as the young woman playing dress-up, putting on a personality as readily as she wears her expensive dresses.

There are also plenty of parallels; the book and movie aren't totally indistinguishable. Still, with the context "Fred," the unnamed narrator, provides, we're given a very different picture in the character study that is this novella. He sees through a lot of her pretenses, and shows how much he cares by never challenging her illusions.

Unlike in the movie, Fred's love remains platonic. Others have noted that there are clues in the text that he's gay, bolstered by the notion he's an author insert, and that Capote, himself, was openly homosexual. I missed all of the hints within the text, though, and would have to reread to provide any evidence. It's not outside the realm of possibility. But, as the story spends very little effort on fleshing out the narrator, it's easy to overlook.

If you've seen the movie based on this book and think you know the story, I recommend you read the novella. They're two very different creatures. As much as I enjoy every role Audrey Hepburn inhabits, I'd been missing out on this fine prose all along. It's not even very long, so, even if you don't agree that it's a lovely, bittersweet story, you haven't wasted a lot of time on it.

I listened to an audio version of this book, narrated by Michael C. Hall of Dexter fame. Though he's played several gay characters, I felt his narration masked the question of the narrator's sexuality. But he was a treat to listen to for a few hours. He was an excellent choice for this one.


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