on 30 December 2003
Although it is the title tale this book is most frequently remembered for, the accompanying short stories should not be overlooked: With a dash of humour and a sprinkling of warmth, this magnificent compilation of four stories was truly a pleasure to read. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, following the mysterious aspiring young actress Holly Golightly, had me hooked from the first few pages not only due to the secrecy regarding her past, but also the way in which there is little or no information offered about the narrator. The reader, experiencing Miss Golightly’s company through the eyes of the storyteller, is unaware of even the simplest facts about the narrator’s own life (to such an extent that we never even learn his name). Such is his obsession with his new friend, that it is as if his own existence becomes unimportant. I believe it is this unusual method of storytelling that is largely responsible for the book’s success.
Another aspect of Truman Capote’s writing I greatly appreciated was his sensitivity and attention to detail: “We giggled, ran, sang along the paths toward the old wooden boathouse, now gone. Leaves floated on the lake; on the shore, a park-man was fanning a bonfire of them, and the smoke, rising like Indian signals, was the only smudge on the quivering air. I thought of the future, and spoke of the past.” It is the relationship between Holly and the narrator that stands out in my mind when remembering the story. Their friendship is touching, and the way in which the narrator longs for Holly is often heart-rending.
Of the other stories, ‘House of Flowers,’ (about a changing relationship) ‘A Diamond Guitar’ (following a group of prisoners) and ‘A Christmas Memory,’ it is the latter which stood out for me. The tale revolves around a seven-year old child and his elderly (distant) cousin. The innocence with which the story is narrated is particularly emotive, as although the two are years apart in terms of age, mentally they appear on a par: “We eat our supper (cold biscuits, bacon, blackberry jam) and discuss tomorrow. Tomorrow the kind of work I like best begins: buying. Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pineapple… why, we’ll need a pony to pull the buggy home.” The two friends occupy themselves with the baking of a number of fruitcakes, a tradition of theirs.
On the outset, this is not the kind of book I would usually pick up, but am immensely glad I did. It was the warmth and compassion employed by the author throughout the book that appealed to me the most. The wealth of kindred, and often-eccentric characters was most agreeable, and I intend to locate a copy of Capote’s murder-mystery ‘In Cold Blood’ as soon as possible. I whole-heartedly recommend the magnificent Breakfast at Tiffany’s – it is the literary equivalent of an ice-cream sundae. Great fun.
The well-known short novel, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and three of Truman Capote's most famous short stories make for a continually fresh and exciting look at how human beings successfully connect with one another. No matter how many times you read these stories, you will be moved by Mr. Capote's marvelous sense of and appreciation for the specialness of each life and the ways we belong to each other. Having not read Breakfast at Tiffany's for about 30 years, I came away much more impressed with the novel than I was the last time I read it. Perhaps you will have the same reaction upon rereading it as well. If you are reading it for the first time, you have a very nice surprise ahead of you!
Breakfast at Tiffany's revolves around Holly Golightly, the former starlet and cafe society item, who floats lightly through life (like cotton fibers in the wind) looking for where she belongs. Ms. Golightly is and will remain one of the most original and intriguing characters in American fiction. Like a magician, she is both more and less than she seems. But she has an appreciation for people and animals that goes to the core of her soul that will touch you (if you are like me), especially in her desire that they and she be free.
The novel has a harder edge and is more revealing about human nature than the movie is. Of the two, I suggest you start with the novel and graduate to the movie. You will appreciate the portrayal by Audrey Hepburn of the inner Holly more that way. The same humor is in both the novel and the movie, as well as the innocent look at life for what it can be, believing in the potential of things to work out for the best.
Despite that upbeat note, her weakness is that for all of her ability to understand what motivates other people she does not understand herself well enough to know when she does belong with and to others. This is symbolized by her abandonment of her unnamed cat, and quick realization that they do belong together. As for the friends she leaves behind, she never seems to appreciate how much they love her and want to be with her. As a result, she abandons them as well . . . leaving them with memories to warm their winter nights.
Mr. Capote is now realized to have been a more autobiographical writer than was appreciated when he first published his fiction. Your understanding of Breakfast at Tiffany's will grow if you keep in mind that it was modeled in part on his friendship with Marilyn Monroe. If you do not know her history, you will find that it closely paralleled Holly's through age 18.
The same is true of his short story, "A Christmas Memory." I suggest that you read about Mr. Capote's childhood in the recent book, A Southern Haunting of Truman Capote, to fully appreciate the magic of this story. His "friend" in the story was based on a beloved figure in his young life, who endowed him with a special sense of being loved and appreciated that formed an important foundation for his character and his skill as a writer. The beautiful devotion that she showed to him is reflected in the loving descriptions he makes of their experiences during their last Christmas together before he was shipped off to military boarding schools at age 8.
"A Diamond Guitar" is about the Platonic love of an older man for a younger one in prison. Like all unrequited love, the older man eventually finds himself embarrassed and exposed. But the experience remains a touchstone to tender feelings in his heart, and he keeps his young friend's glass-diamond-studded guitar under his bed . . . even though it doesn't sound good when others play it and is becoming shabby with age.
"House of Flowers" is a hard look at the vast differences in the ways that women and men view their relationships with one another. Even when loving, the message seems to be that the men will always take advantage of the women. The women, however, acquire soulful beauty in their ability to overcome that needy exploitation and appreciate belonging to one another and to the men.
This story tells the tale of a young woman who works in a house of ill fame in Haiti, and is charmed into "marrying" a young, poor hill man who is dominated by his spell-casting grandmother. Together, the young couple overcome the challenge, and build on their love for one another.
Budding novelists are sometimes encouraged to study nature closely to draw inspiration. Although I do not know if Mr. Capote ever received or followed that advice, it is very clear that he retained a childlike ability to see the world as fresh and new every time. No detail, no nuance, no quirk was too small or unimportant to pass by him or to fail to cast its charm upon him. Kindly and gently, Mr. Capote takes the reader by the hand and shows what makes these elements so interesting to him. In this way, the reader's world is expanded, enlightened, and improved.
These four stories reverbrate against one another, like the continuing vibrations after a large bell after pealing four times, and create a combined effect beyond what any single story can provide.
After you have finished enjoying these stories and the movie, I suggest that you makes some notes about where you belong, who you belong with and to, and what that says about you. In this way, you can notice important connections that mean a lot to you and others that you may be slighting. Honor those tendrils in the way that Mr. Capote would if he were writing a story about your life.
Notice and touch life intimately and lovingly to find truth and beauty!
on 9 April 2002
I was pleasantly surprised by this book - I vaguely remember seeing the film with Audrey Hepburn but could remember nothing about it at all. The book, however, made much more of an impression. It's an easy read and is entertaining and atmospheric. My guess is it'll stay with you longer than the film will. I thought it would be sugary sweet, a romantic comedy with a happy ending but the characters and relationships are more flawed and interesting than that. An interesting book. Worth a read.
on 11 June 2003
Four beautiful stories relating to innocents and the unfeeling worlds in which they find themselves engulfed, worlds playing to different rules and marching to very different beats. This truly is one of the best collections of short stories I have ever come across, better than anything I have read by Saki or Fitzgerald, both of whom I am fond. Never maudlin or contrived, Capote manages to generate a depth and breadth of emotion I have rarely ever felt, and often in fewer words than one might sensibly imagine possible. The highlights for me are The Diamond Guitar and A Christmas Memory, stories which leave you stunned by their brilliance and literally incapable of conscious thought, so much is there to absorb, for some long time after you've finished reading them. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
on 25 June 2007
Breakfast at Tiffany's takes its cue from Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Both are short, beautifully written New York novels in which semi-invisible narrators wrestle with more self-indulgent characters, who take centre stage - and with whom the narrators enjoy ambiguous, shifting relationships.
In fact, the narrator in Breakfast at Tiffany's is so invisible he doesn't even have a name - apart from those the central character, Holly Golightly, gives him. The novel is a hymn to Holly - the narrator desperately wants to understand her, just as Nick Carraway struggles to understand Gatsby. Ultimately, though, hero and narrator are too different, with the heroes in both novels behaving exactly as heroes do: bolder, more inventive and almost certainly less stable than their narrators. Also like Gatsby, Holly Golightly has a hell of a backstory, slowly revealed.
Capote's prose is not dissimilar to Scott Fitzgerald's: poetic, but perhaps a little simpler and with a lighter touch, including some wry humour. Attractively written, it's difficult not to be as spellbound as the narrator is by Holly - however maddening she is. A captivating character study with prose like champagne - classy, and with fizz.
on 14 August 1999
"I am always drawn back to places where I lived, the houses and their neighbourhoods" is the perfect first sentence to a novella that is perfectly written. It is hard to describe prose that is so elegant and describes characters and situations with spareness, yet with such depth and feeling.
Just as you experience New York in the early sixties in the film, you experience New York in the 1940s in Capote's story. Holly Golightly runs from herself -- and keeps running -- but the reader is not left with any sense of loss, only warmth.
"Breakfast at Tiffany's" is a true work of art. Displace one word and its genius would diminish. It is highly recommended.
on 24 January 1999
This is it! The sarcasm flows through the pages, this is better than the film, there are no happy endings, there is the delight of marvellous prose, of humour, of a star that burnt too brightly, too well and too quickly. If Capote had kept writing like this and hadn't become a TV standby guest for so long he'd be up there with the greats. The brilliant novel by the forgotten star of crystal prose. Buy it, Read it, Love it.
on 2 May 2016
I had to read one of Capotes’s longer works after being entranced by a melancholic collection of his short stories, and like many readers before me I now find myself captivated by the character of Holly Golightly.
As her adopted surname suggests, and the card on her mailbox confirms, she is happiest when constantly travelling lightly through life, countries and even people, and disaster only comes when she starts to depend on people and thinks about settling down. However while Holly goes lightly she crushes hearts and sticks in minds.
she treads much more heavily on people’s hearts and she certainly sticks in our minds.
We however get to be “Fred”. Almost the only flawless character in the book, he is our constant viewpoint. We seem to come to know him well yet by the end we realise we don’t know his history, nor how he sustains himself, nor even what his real name is. However at the end he still can’t help hoping that Holly is happy and because he can’t, then neither can we.
Oh and do read the three great Capote short stories that usually also come collected with this novella. And what next after that? Well I do believe that there was some 1960’s film or other based on this – I wonder if it’s any good….
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Firstly, this is a surprisingly short book. ‘Breakfast at Tiffney’s’ is a novella of only 90 pages – which was quite a surprise to me as they have made a film, musicals and plays from this book’s storyline.
This is then followed by three more very short stories of 18, 13 & 16 pages respectively. All are very readable.
To actually survive or even reach the status as a ‘best – seller,’ with such a brief storyline, the content has to very, very, good … and it is.
The writing in my view is close to that of the quality of a Steinbeck or Fitzgerald. Though, as I have previously stated, its brevity for me makes it a first class read but not a classic. ‘The Great Gatsby,’ is not a long read but is at least twice as long as this. A remark one could make about Steinbeck’s ‘Mice and Men’ and ‘Tortilla Flats.’
There is just enough content in the latter books to truly satisfy the reader. This read, though absorbing, left me a bit short of that. Holly Golightly is though undeniably a great role for any thespian to play’.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book and in all likelihood it has probably inspired me to watch the play which is doing the rounds this year.
on 22 February 2007
Before reading Breakfast at Tiffany's you need to erase the image of Audrey Hepburn in a Givenchy dress from your mind. Though thoroughly delightful and beautifully written, this book deals with themes that are very dark indeed. It tells the story of Holly Golightly, an eighteen-year-old call girl with a tragic past who makes her living by keeping company with older, degenerate men. She refuses to accept the reality of her profession as she convinces herself that her companions are just generous towards her with no strings attached. Yet despite her debauched lifestyle she is stylish, witty charming and thoroughly engaging, as are all of the characters in the book. Forget all about the film, this book is so fresh and appealing that it could have been written yesterday and, as it is only 100 pages long even the most reluctant reader will love it.