Breakfast at Tiffany’s is Truman Capote’s famous novella, about a young country teenager, turned New York café society girl, Holly Golightly and her upstairs neighbour. The novella is actually set during the 1940’s – not the 1960’s that the iconic and wonderful film starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard was set. Our unnamed narrator is a fledgling writer, living in a brownstone apartment in New York’s upper East side. Holly Golightly lives beneath him, he hears her call up to Mr Yunioshi: to let her in, she never has a key, Yunioshi a photographer, who lives in the top floor studio is desperate to photograph Holly.
As wonderful as Audrey Hepburn was in the film, you need to get her right out of your head – beautiful, graceful and fragile, a wonderful actress, but not the Holly Golightly that Capote created (he actually lobbied for Marilyn Monroe –but she would have been too old surely?) Anyway back to the book; Holly is a nineteen year old girl living off the wealthy men she meets in New York society, she’s mysterious, irrepressible often endearing, sexy and rather shocking. Her Tiffany bought business cards say simply; Holiday Golightly, Travelling.
“She was still on the stairs, now she reached the landing, and the ragbag colours of her boy’s hair, tawny streaks, strands of albino blond and yellow, caught the hall light. It was a warm evening, nearly summer, and she wore a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker. For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks. Her mouth was large, her nose upturned. A pair of dark glasses blotted out her eyes. It was a face beyond childhood, yet this side of belonging to a woman. I thought her anywhere between sixteen and thirty; as it turned out, she was shy two months of her nineteenth birthday.”
Holly and our narrator meet properly when Holly perching on the fire escape outside raps on the window, pleading for entry, as she escapes an awkward man in her apartment downstairs. She calls her neighbour “Fred” after her brother whom she talks about with affection and nostalgia, and “Fred” reads one of his stories to her. Holly loves to shock and surprise just a little, and she speaks quite nonchalantly about the gangster she visits in Sing Sing each week, and the money she is paid to do so and the men she knows. “Fred” and Holly become friends, with “Fred” obviously nursing rather fonder feelings for his enigmatic friend than he admits, to her at least, for Holly is a wild thing and she warns against falling in love with a wild thing, but Fred can’t help himself, and neither can the reader. Over the course of the next few months “Fred” begins to learn a bit more about Holly and her vulnerabilities, where she came from and what her hopes and fears are, meets her friends and even buys her a cheap little gift from her beloved Tiffany’s the place that Holly associates with happiness. Holly famously lives with a cat with no name; a cat Holly claims does not belong to her that she has no right to name. Holly is looking for a place where she will belong; hence the caveat travelling on her business cards, she has no idea where she is going.
“What I found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany’s, then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.”
Capote was very insistent apparently, that Holly was not a prostitute, she was a café society girl, living off the money and gifts her male friends and lovers shower her with, and she one day hopes to marry one of them. I don’t want to say too much about the ending, just in case there is someone who has never read the book or seen the film, but bear in mind it’s hard to keep a wild thing in one place.
I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of the compelling little novella, Capote’s writing is naturally superb, I have come to love his sense of place and Holly Golightly must surely be one of his best character creations.