Enjoying my new-found freedom to read what the hell I like, I decided on a whim to try this wonderfully short (less than 100 pages) novella by the author of ‘In Cold Blood’. Turned into a memorable film with Audrey Hepburn only three years after it was published, it is one of those books that is better known in its cinematic version than as a novel.
The novel tells the story of the narrator’s brief friendship (but not romance) in 1940’s New York with the irrepressible Holly Golightly. Holly is an American geisha, a girl of negotiable friendship, who bursts into the narrator’s life one year, and is almost as quickly gone, flying off to Brazil to avoid having to give evidence against a gangster acquaintance. This is Holly’s story. She is vibrant and has an enormous appetite for life:
“Be anything but a coward, a pretender, an emotional crook, a whore: I’d rather have cancer than a dishonest heart.”
In other words she is true to herself, to her appetites and instincts, even if this means that she crosses the line of what society considers acceptable. The narrator admires her from afar, and hardly emerges at all as a character; he is dubbed Fred by Holly, after her brother abroad somewhere distant fighting in the Second World War, but remains otherwise anonymous, a lens through which we watch Holly and her adventures. This technique reminded me of the way Fitzgerald uses Nick Carraway in Gatsby – an observer bearing witness to the social whirl around someone larger than life.
The film version of the novel sanitises and romantises Holly. In the novel she has a hard edged protective outer shell, and realises that she cannot afford any sentimentality or even romance in her life. The only times this façade is pierced is when she receives news of her brother’s death, and at the end when she asks ‘Fred’ to care for her cat, a request he faithfully carries out.
Penguin published this short novella with three short stories, House of Flowers, A Diamond Guitar, and A Christmas Memory. These are harmless enough, very different in tone from the principal story, but I can’t avoid the impression that they are padding, some odds and ends added in to give the impression of a longer novel, without adding much if anything to the main event.
Capote was a journalist, and only dabbled in novel writing: as such this is really just a sketch. You could probably watch the film in about the same time as it would take to read the novel, and I suspect it would be a more rewarding experience. Why not do both?