Golden Globe-winning actor Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) performs Truman Capote's provocative, naturalistic masterstroke about a young writer's charmed fascination with his unorthodox neighbor, the "American geisha" Holly Golightly. Holly - a World War II-era society girl in her late teens - survives via socialization, attending parties and restaurants with men from the wealthy upper class who also provide her with money and expensive gifts. Over the course of the novella, the seemingly shallow Holly slowly opens up to the curious protagonist, who eventually gets tossed away as her deepening character emerges. Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote's most beloved work of fiction, introduced an independent and complex character who challenged audiences, revived Audrey Hepburn's flagging career in the 1961 film version, and whose name and style has remained in the national idiom since publication. Hall uses his diligent attention to character to bring our unnamed narrator’s emotional vulnerability to the forefront of this American classic.
Editors Select, February 2014 - Although very familiar with the iconic film, I’d never actually read the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote. When I heard that actor Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) was narrating it for Audible, I jumped at the chance to listen. Capote’s classic is simultaneously darker and more wistful than the film, and the famed Holly Golightly a little more calculating than charming. Michael C. Hall delivers a mesmerizing performance, giving each character their own unique voice. Hall’s cadence perfectly matches Capote’s words, and he forced me into my own whirlwind friendship with Holly. I’d never before experienced a narrator who seemed to so completely understand an author’s intentions – the effect was magical. Katie, Audible Editor
"[Michael C. Hall] uses his diligent attention to character to bring our unnamed narrator’s emotional vulnerability to the forefront of this American classic.... I felt content and comfortable in Hall’s hands as the tale unfolded. He did a wonderful job giving each character voice, especially that of Holly." (Caffeinated Book Reviewer)
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Years ago, when my wife and I first dipped into AbFab, we learned that the show’s British creators were puzzled by the American reaction to what they had created. Having produced nothing short of a comic morality tale on How Not to Live, they found it was embraced here as a Guide to Good Deportment. Something got lost in translation.
I think something similar has happened to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Some of the blame, no doubt, can be laid at the feet of the movie (if movies indeed have feet). Audrey Hepburn’s sweeter, more sympathetic portrayal of Holly and a plot substantially reworked to Hollywood sensibilities—the most outré detail retained from the book was, I believe, the Japanese photographer asking her for another session—all conspired to leave us poor slobs who had seen the movie thinking we had read the book, too.
The real Holly is, in fact, far nearer the knuckle. In a 1968 interview Capote called girls like her, “the authentic American geishas”. “She had no job, but accompanied expense-account men to the best restaurants and night clubs, with the understanding that her escort was obligated to give her some sort of gift, perhaps jewelry or a check… if she felt like it, she might take her escort home for the night.”
The movie aside, what really fogs our goggles is the desire to see what we want to see. Holly fits so neatly, it seems, into our preconceptions of the pre-1960’s universe: “she is at odds” wrote William Nance in The Worlds of Truman Capote, “with the literalistic and moralistic society”. Certainly on the strength of the movie I had no problem casting Holly as an outrider for the social upheaval that was still 20-some years in her own future (remember, the book is set in 1943-1944, making Holly, by the Summer of Love, middle-aged).
Again, something got lost in translation. And, again, reality is far more interesting. First up is something I sensed while listening and have since had confirmed by Jay McInerney (The Telegraph, August 2013): Holly was no proto-70’s feminist. While she cynically uses men, she also truly and unapologetically likes them. And, as McInerney points out, though a free spirit she would be appalled by “hippie sartorial practices”.
I also sensed that her sophistication, for all her dark glasses and little black dresses, was skin deep. She has fled from her downhome roots, true, but she’s unashamed of those roots. Rather than deny them she just leaves them as she leaves her cat, her city friendships, her apartment.
Many critics believe she is really driven by a fear of death; since they have the larger context of Capote’s complete output to judge this book against, I’m not going to argue. I’ll just volunteer the suggestion that, as I listened, I got the sense Holly was really fleeing the loss of her youth and, consequently, her looks—a sort of fear of death but not quite. It’s more a fear of loss of income (see above), hence stability. And stability is the thing she yearns for most even as she refuses to do anything to create it for herself, assuming it is something “out there” that can be found rather than made here and now with, perhaps, that nice aspiring writer who lives downstairs.
Yet for all her flippant disdain for the guardrails of convention, Holly understands that the “price of unorthodoxy” (Ihab Hassan, Birth of a Heroine) is a loss of stability. True, when it looks like her South American diplomat might come through with a ring, her sudden immersion in the routine chores of domesticity is playacting pure and simple, nothing but another parlor game. For her sincere (sincerity, that bane of the sophisticate) admission that stability, normalcy, convention might be good things we have to wait till the very end, when she admits what she’s known all along: we all should belong somewhere to someone. The scene moved one New York Times reviewer to dub Capote, “perhaps the last of the old-fashioned Valentine makers”, proving what Holly and Capote already knew, that sophistication has its mental and moral limits.
And there is a moral to this book. Once again I am reminded of the words of Oscar Wilde. Though in the preface he stoutly denied that The Picture of Dorian Grey had a moral, when the book was attacked as immoral he came out swinging: “there is a terrible moral in 'Dorian Gray' - a moral which the prurient will not be able to find in it, but it will be revealed to all whose minds are healthy.” The moral of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is perhaps a little less terrible but no less true and poignant for all that.
It goes without saying that the book itself is a gem of the writer’s craft. The man who famously said of the Beat Generation, “…they’re not writers. They’re typists” was no typist himself. Michael C. Hall does it all more than justice, giving each character a unique voice and letting the writing—its shape and cadences—speak for itself.
Note: Many thanks to The Critical Evolution of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, found at Ms. Brigitte’s Mild Ride. Among its numerous merits, this "discursive bibliography" is a storehouse of critical perspectives I would never have been able to track down on my own.
First, Michael C. Hall did an excellent job on the narration, lending a personality and voice to each character. You always know when the narrator does a great job when you lose track of him in the characters; that is, you forget that this guy speaking is the guy on that Dexter TV show. You don't remember the narrator until the audio is near finished. I wish I could give more than 5 stars. This narration job is up there with Will Patton's best work and at times is even better.
As for the Book,
I'd always seen the commercial highlights/trailer for the movie version of "Breakfast at Tiffany's," and the phrase is even iconic of that era and place. Yet, I'd never seen the movie or read the book--until now. I didn't know what to expect besides basically the description on the audible version of the book - the basic storyline. So I know if I say too much here in the review of the couple of twists and the ending, I'll be spoiling the enjoyment of this audio for another listener.
With that in mind, Truman Capote's masterful short novel displays this young lady's complexities of character underlying the shallow facade. Some can rise above the admixture of nature and nurture and dream so much they will follow it to the ends of the earth. Holly Golightly was a dreamer extraordinaire or as Capote put it, a "lopsided romantic" whose trait of personality would never change.
A poignant line which I think captures a major theme of the novel is Holly's observation that: "it's better to look at the sky than live there; such an empty place, so vague, just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear."
I've read somewhere that Capote ran in the same circles as Marilyn Monroe and parts of Holly Golightly are loosely based on Norma Jean's personality and her early years. I don't know if that's true, but it sounds right, based on what I know.
I must add my thoughts that an outcast sissy-boy from Monroeville, Alabama at the time (and even today) was likely extremely sensitive and keenly observant of his environment in the Big Apple and the fact that he was also a gay man from down South up in the big city probably served to further enhance his remarkable attention to details in that society at that time. The difficulties he endured in those years likely integrated into his makeup as an artist who could and would so vividly paint the outsider trying to fit in with the clouds, "an empty place," as it turns out, "where the thunder goes and things disappear."