Hello everyone and welcome to the first book review/discussion in my Book of the Month series. As you’ll know if you follow me on Instagram @katelovesliterature, July’s book of the month is Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. So let’s dive right in.
I would imagine that when most people think of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, they think of the movie and they think of the stunning Audrey Hepburn because she made the little black dress and the character of Holly Golightly iconic in the beautiful 1961 movie directed by Blake Edwards. I will talk about the movie at some point in time on a Movie Monday however today is all about the novella which is notably very different to the movie.
Let’s talk about Capote’s writing style. If you have read In Cold Blood, if you haven’t it is well worth the read, but if you have then you will note that Capote’s writing style shifts in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I think it is fair to suggest that Capote could be described as a gothic writer however his worldly city girl Holly Golightly showcased his range. Capote is a blunt writer and something that I really took note of when I was rereading this novella was just how blunt and downright offensive Capote’s language is in this novella. There are many passages that the reader may find very uncomfortable because of the outdated, and offensive language that Capote uses however I do believe it ties into Holly’s very blunt and jarring character. Holly is described as ‘top banana in the shock department’ and I do think that the very jarring language used was a deliberate choice made by Capote but it doesn’t change the fact that some parts were very uncomfortable to read and now that I am older I was more aware of the offensive language in this novella that I perhaps didn’t fully understand when I was younger.
Capote is not only blunt, but he is excellent at employing storytelling techniques such as symbolism, imagery and allegory and there are many physical things in this novella that represent Holly’s feelings and fears, the main three things being her cat, her sunglasses, and the antique birdcage.
Holly Golightly is a walking riddle. She is an enigma. She is a free spirit who goes with the flow and at times she seems impossible to understand however she has a very charming and magnetic energy about her. You should want nothing to do with her because her riddle-like personality is at times very frustrating and trying to understand her will drive you mad but at the same time when she is gone, you feel as though something is missing. Her energy is so captivating that when she is gone, you wonder what she is doing, when will she be back, you hope to see her again because confusing as she is there is just something about her that keeps bringing people back. I think that Holly Golightly is perhaps one of the best fictional characters there is because there is no one quite like her. She is imperfect, she is very flawed, she is complex and yet she is sincere and that sincerity grounds her and makes her earnest. The description ‘she’s a phoney but she’s a real phoney’ sums her up quite well.
Holly Golightly is a young girl who is trying to figure out her place in the world, she is trying to figure out where she belongs but at the same time she is terrified of being caged in, of being trapped, of settling and so she runs. Her cat with no name represents her fear of commitment. She won’t name him because naming him implies he is hers, that he belongs to her and so she keeps him at a distance. She does the same thing with the novella’s narrator. Her neighbour whom she calls Fred because he reminds her of her brother Fred and although the two strike up a friendship, she always keeps him at that distance, she never lets anyone get too close. Her dark glasses serve the same purpose. Holly is very rarely without her glasses and this means that her eyes are always covered, I think this is another way that Holly hides herself from the world and prevents others from getting too close. There is nothing quite so personal as eye contact and while it is a cliché saying, the eyes really can be the window to the soul and to look into someone’s eyes can tell us so much about how they are truly feeling and Holly does not give the world that option. She presents to the world what she wants them to see and there are many occasions when masks, both literal and metaphorical come up in this story.
Lastly there is the birdcage. Our narrator sees it and falls in love with it and Holly buys it for him but the gift comes with a condition – he must never put a living thing inside it. Holly can appreciate that the cage is a beautiful antique but she cannot bear the thought of anything being put in a cage and the physical cage represents the confinement that she fears, that she continuously runs from.
Tiffany’s is Holly’s escape. Whenever she is feeling caged in (the mean reds) she goes to Tiffany’s because ‘nothing bad can happen at a place like Tiffany’s’. Holly is searching for the place that makes her feel like Tiffany’s, that makes her feel calm and safe. If she could find that place she says she would even give the cat a name so she is not opposed to finding a home, she just does not know where that home is and she scared to find it because finding it means belonging.
The novella, in my opinion, can shed a light on how those who suffer from anxiety may be feeling. The idea of suddenly being afraid but not knowing what you’re afraid of is a very moving part of this novella and one that has always stood out to me. Another line that I will never forget is ‘Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.’ I truly believe this and it is one of my favourite lines from any book because feeling confident and sure of yourself is a wonderful feeling and one that can take a while to feel. Feeling confident and comfortable in your own skin brings such a peace of mind that is truly extraordinary and if someone helps you find that confidence then they are truly giving you a gift.
Our novella’s narrator wants to be a writer, a ‘real’ writer with published work and I believe that Capote’s writing style really captures the eye of the aspiring writer. We are reading the story through ‘Fred’s’ point of view and so the descriptions in this novella, of Holly, of places, of other people and of New York itself are really vivid and beautiful. There is one snippet of ‘Fred’ describing Holly dancing and he mentions how she floats around like a scarf in the wind and so I think if you are a writer, or you enjoy vivid imagery then you will enjoy Capote’s use of the writer’s imagination in this novella.
I also think that the city of New York plays a very important role in this novella and the city is as much a character as Holly is. There is something wonderfully cinematic about New York. It is a bustling city and I think is makes sense that the always moving Holly Golightly would love a place like New York. The city matches her energy. Although I am not from New York, I imagine that there is something nice about reading a book and seeing a place you know so well talked about in such intimate ways. James Joyce is one of Ireland’s most known writers and he does something similar in his work Dubliners. He writes about Dublin in a very exact and intricate way, and being from Dublin, one of the things I loved so much about Dubliners was seeing places I knew so well and streets I’d walked down be described so perfectly on paper and I imagine that someone from New York would experience that same thing when reading Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
This novella is much grittier than the film. It shows the struggles of finding oneself and how terrifying it can be to not know where you belong. It is ironic that Holly hates cages yet she always builds herself one because until she feels comfortable in herself, she will never feel comfortable in any place. The novella also is more upfront about how Holly earns her money, a fact that the movie elegantly smooths over. Holly is an escort who unbeknownst to her, has gotten herself entangled with the mafia and although she always looks glamorous and throws fancy cocktail parties where she sips martinis, she is always one bad day away from falling apart. It is a compelling read and while I sometimes wish it was a longer novel, I do think the novella style suits Holly’s story perfectly. We get a snippet of her, all from the point of view of someone she has mesmerised and when the novella ends, we are left wondering and while I won’t ruin the ending, I do prefer the novella’s ending to the movie’s ending. I feel the final line of this novella, which again I will not mention because I won’t spoil it, is an extremely poignant line and I think it does end the novella perfectly.
So overall I really enjoyed rereading this novella again. I had not read it in a few years and as I said, the very offensive language did take me by surprise, and while I was uncomfortable at times, I do like the story that Capote is telling. I love the character that he has created. I like that he captures a writer’s spirit and I do love the complexity and nuanced characters that are explored in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I would recommend this novella to anyone who is a fan of the movie, and I would recommend it as a novella regardless of whether someone has seen the movie or not because it is not too long and I think it is a novella that many people could read and we could all come away with a different feeling. It is a classic for a reason and Holly Golightly is iconic for a reason. She is the novella. She is confusing and captivating all at once, which is actually how I would describe this novella in short – confusing yet captivating. It is a wonderful riddle that I enjoy reading and I know that after a while I will likely pick it up again on a rainy day and enjoy it once more.
This has been July’s Book of the Month. I hope you enjoyed my discussion of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I have seen the play that was adapted from the novella and I will do a Movie Monday about the movie at some point in the future and I will likely discuss the play in a Theatre Throwback post at some point in the future too. Have you read Breakfast at Tiffany’s? What did you think? Have you seen the movie? Do you prefer the novella or the movie? Have you seen it onstage? I would love to hear all your thoughts about Breakfast at Tiffany’s so let me know.
I will be announcing August’s Book of the Month soon so make sure to stay tuned for that and for information about all that is to come on Katelovesliterature.com you should follow me on Instagram @katelovesliterature. July has been a fantastic launch month, thank you so much everyone for all of the lovely support that I have received. It is much appreciated. It is onwards and upwards from here on out and there is so much more to come.