I cannot remember where I picked up my copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but it has been sat perched on the bookshelf for some months, and it caught my eye as I was trying to decide what to read next.

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

I’ve seen the film version a couple of times in the past – and a good film it is too. However I’m always slightly apprehensive about reading books that I have already seen the film adaptation of. I guess the worry is that however good the book is – and the book is pretty much always better than the film, right – that in the back of my mind I’ll foolishly be comparing the two and expecting the book to be like the film. This is always a mistake; films and books are totally different and are not, I believe, comparable.

Anyway, in this particular case (as with The Remains of the Day, Howards End and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) although I had seen the film adaptation first, I found the book to be even better than I was expecting. It’s a real treat.

Even if the Audrey Hepburn film had never been made, Holly Golightly would still be an iconic character in twentieth century American literature. She is so vibrant and fresh and so unlike anything else. As the blurb on the back cover of my edition has it, “Holly is a fragile eyeful of tawny hair and turned-up nose, a heart-breaker, a perplexer, a traveller, a tease.”

It is this heady mix of unlikely characteristics that make her so intriguing. Most of the time she is absolutely brimming with self-confidence and verve, and yet at other times we observe her child-likeness, her gentleness and her vulnerability. Here is a snippet taken from when Holly sneaks through the narrator’s window in the middle of the night to escape a man in her own apartment below:

‘What is today?’

‘Thursday.’

Thursday.’ She stood up. ‘My God,’ she said, and sat down again with a moan. ‘It’s too gruesome.’

I was tired enough not to be curious. I lay down on the bed and closed my eyes. Still it was irresistible: ‘What’s gruesome about Thursday?’

‘Nothing. Except that I can never remember when it’s coming. You see, on Thursdays I have to catch the eight forty-five. They’re so particular about visiting hours, so if you’re there by ten that gives you an hour before the poor men eat lunch. Think of it: lunch at eleven. You can go at two, and I’d so much rather, but he likes me to come in the morning, he says it sets him up for the rest of the day. I’ve got to stay awake,’ she said, punching her cheeks until the roses came, ‘there isn’t time to sleep, I’d look consumptive, I’d sag like a tenement, and that wouldn’t be fair: a girl can’t go to Sing Sing with a green face.’

Holly and her tale are both somewhat more risqué here than depicted in the 1961 Holywood film, and the relationship between the narrator and Holly is very different indeed. I really like the narrator that Truman Capote has created in the novel and the interesting dynamic that exists between him and Holly. He is much more interesting than the good-looking, smarmy author depicted in the film. There is much more mystery in the novel; more questions and fewer answers, and the book is all the more compelling for this fact.

If you liked this, you might also enjoy: The Catcher in the Rye or Franny and Zooey, both of which are by J. D. Salinger.

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