Friday 1 March 2024

Breakfast at Tiffany's

I enjoyed Jenny Jackson's PIneapple Street and its 'old money' Brooklyn setting.  I was also intrigued by its epitaph - a quote from Truman Capote.  'I live in Brooklyn. By choice.'

I'd never actually read his famous novella Breakfast at Tiffany's and it's difficult to read without an image of Audrey Hepburn shimmering before you.  The Holly Golightly of the book is a rather less progressive young lady and at times is almost unlikeable.  I suppose when you consider her background, orphaned as a child and married at 14 before running away to become, let's say, an escort, her choices were limited.  The unnamed narrator is a much kinder character who brings out Holly's better self.

Of course, it's the quality of Truman Capote's beautifully descriptive prose that makes this book so good.  From the opening lines reminiscent of Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby you know that you are in the hands of a great writer.

She was still on the stairs, now she reached the landing and the ragbag colours of her boy's hair, tawny streaks, strands of albino blonde and yellow, caught the hall light.  It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker.  For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks.

A lot of the famous lines and images in the  1961 film come directly from the book; Holly sitting on the fire escape drying her hair in the sun and playing her guitar, her love of Tiffany's 'Nothing very bad could happen there'.  And of course her famous line about it being tacky to wear diamonds before you're 40!

Although written in 1958 it is actually set in 1943 during the war.  When Holly receives a telegram to say that her beloved brother has been killed the 'mean reds' (her words for depression) threaten to overwhelm her.

Certainly there are phrases and sentiments in the book which are unacceptable now but the story of a young writer's first Brooklyn apartment and his infatuation with a young women who lives in the apartment below and owns a ginger cat with a 'pirate's cut-throat face'  is utterly charming.

Outside, the rain had stopped, there was only a mist of it in the air, so I turned the corner and walked along the street where the brownstone stands.  It is a street with trees that in the summer make cool patterns on the pavement; but now the leaves were yellowed and mostly down.


Lark said...

I do love the movie version of this one, but I still haven't read the book. I tried once, but my library didn't own any copies. I should put it back on my TBR list. Great review. :D

JaneGS said...

I read this for the first time a few years ago, and I thought of The Great Gatsby also while reading it. I think you liked it more than I did, but the combo of movie/novella have made it a classic in both genres.

CLM said...

I enjoyed Pineapple Street and, although it was quite over the top in places, I certainly know some snooty people like those in the book. I found the younger sister very convincingly drawn but so obnoxious and smug. One of my coworkers went to high school with the author so we had fun discussing it.

I have never done more than skim Breakfast at Tiffany's but if you live in NYC you feel you are exposed to it anyway!

Vintage Reading said...

Lark, I do like novellas because you can read them in an afternoon.

Jane, yes I've not seen the film for years so I'd like to see it again now I know the book.

CLM, Yeah the story of the youngest sister in Pineapple Street was interesting. I wondered if it was going to turn into a Valley of the Dolls scenario when she was drinking and taking pills but I'm glad she turned it around.

Nadia said...

Pineapple Street was a mixed bag for me, but Capote's writing is not. I have yet to read this one and do have a copy sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be picked up - maybe this is the year. Especially with the TV show, Feud: Capote vs The Swans currently airing, makes me want to read Capote. I'm so glad you posted about this book. Thank you!

Vintage Reading said...

Yes I really want to see Capote vs The Swans. He may have been a 'difficult' man but he was the real deal as a writer.

Nadia said...

Nicola, so true. He was a writer through and through, which I think is why his books are just so good. There are some writers who can capture a moment, while others can create a whole world.

thecuecard said...

I like the passages you cite. Capote was quite a writer. I always see Audrey Hepburn in my mind as Holly.

Kat said...

I really love this edition, Nicola, and am now tempted to reread it! How I love even the name Holly Golitely.