Title: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Author: Truman Capote
Publication date: 1958
What’s it about?
The narrator moves into an apartment in New York City and meets fellow tenant Holly Golightly, a ‘girl about town’. Holly treads very lightly in the world; she hosts regular parties, courts a number of mysterious gentlemen friends, and seems not to want to get tied down – yet. The narrator gets to know her – and finds out more about her background and upbringing – before Holly disappears as quickly and elusively as she has come.
Where did I get hold of the book?
This one was from the university library again. Due to a system upgrade they’re running at the moment, I get to keep it for longer than normal, so I might even dip into the other short stories included in this volume.
What did I learn from it?
I was reminded of the wonders of serendipity that the Book Diaries have brought me over the past year and a half, and the strange connections I’ve made between seemingly unconnected books.
Do you remember the Two Ronnies’ ‘Mastermind’ sketch, where Ronnie Corbett’s specialist subject is ‘Answering the Question Before Last’? I feel as though something similar has been happening with the last few books I’ve been reading.
When I read Lolita, the one thing I took away from it was, perhaps surprisingly, the road trips that the two protagonists go on. Fast forward to my next book, On the Road, and… well, you can see the link.
What did I take away from On the Road? The sense that I felt a little apart from everyone else around me, that I wanted to tread lightly on the world, not make too many commitments, and would run away the minute someone tried to pin me down. Fast forward to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and that’s not a million miles away from a description of Holly Golightly herself.
I doubt this will continue. You can read what I’m going to take away from Breakfast at Tiffany’s further down the page – but I’d be very surprised if it had any connection whatsoever with my next book: Naked Lunch. Although you never know… Time will tell!
How did it make me see the world differently?
I was expecting to love the book and the character of Holly, probably because so many people have expressed such fond opinions of Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of her in the film version (which I haven’t seen). So I was surprised when, actually, I didn’t.
I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy the book – I did. And I certainly warmed to Holly a little more towards the end, as we discover more of her story and understand (perhaps) why she is the way she is. It’s also very peculiar to admit to not being keen on someone who I recognise is very like me in several ways (see above). In fact, it’s not just peculiar – it’s downright disturbing.
But I can’t escape the fact that when I first met the character, I really didn’t like her at all. Whether it was the shallowness, the using of people for her own ends, the value she places on monetary acquisitions… I’m not sure, but it did bring me up quite sharply as I questioned why I was reacting like this.
I guess Holly was a product of her background and the time she grew up in, when women didn’t have the freedoms they have now, and had to depend more on men (and specifically men with money) to scrape together a life of their own. But something still grated. Oddly, as my teeth were grinding, I recalled my reaction to the title character in another of my Book Diaries books: Rebecca.
Back then I was aware that we were probably meant to relate more to the feisty dead first wife than to her mousy replacement – but I didn’t. I did wonder at the time whether I was somehow ripping up every advance feminism had ever made, with my desire for a quiet life, and to hell with the parties and the staking of claims and the loud assertions of my rightful place in the world.
And it’s happened again with Breakfast at Tiffany’s: that disturbing feeling that I’ve somehow let down womankind by wrinkling my nose at this model of desire and attraction, whom everyone in the world apart from me seems to love. But this time there is a difference. Rebecca was written by a woman – Daphne du Maurier – and Holly Golightly has been written by a man: Truman Capote. And I started to wonder whether Holly is a male fantasy; in other words, she appeals more to men than to women.
I really don’t know, and unless I embark on a serious study of the characters and themes and psychosocial explorations in these two books, I probably never will. But I did become more acutely aware that most of the books I’ve read for the Book Diaries have been written by what might disparagingly be called ‘old white men’. And this has given me a fresh kick up the behind for selecting my theme for next year.
I’m not going to reveal it just yet, but I’ve settled on my choice and will be announcing it in due course. And I’ll likely need input from others when it comes to picking my 24 books… so keep your eyes peeled and you could really help me out!
What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?
This is going to seem fairly prosaic after the above insights into my soul, but the one image that I can’t shake from my mind after reading this book is that of a giant bird cage. The narrator sees it in the window of an antique shop, and Holly buys it for him as a gift. This (rather embarrassingly, given my earlier comments about monetary acquisitiveness) reminds me of an ornamental bird cage that I saw in a shop a couple of months ago and failed to buy for myself – and now keep wishing I had. (It was designed for candles rather than birds, but still…)
So the thing I’m going to do, to turn this less-than-admirable hankering into something good, is to focus instead on the presents I buy for other people. As I don’t live near my family, I’m guilty of not getting them gifts at the time of their birthday, instead saying ‘I’ll get you something I can bring you in person, and I’ll come and visit’ – and then never visiting. There must be all sorts of things that I could buy and put in the post – but I always end up delaying, and then having to ‘double up’ at Christmas to make up for it.
This is a terrible habit, so I’m going to promise, here and now, that I will change. I will buy presents for my family at the time of their birthday, and will either post the gifts on time or make a real effort to visit.
A musical interlude
This song by Kirsty MacColl popped into my head as I was mulling over my reaction to Holly Golightly. The interesting thing about a literary character is that you don’t know what happens to them after the events of the book – but this describes the kind of life I can imagine her having in her later, less attractive years.