If you’ve seen the movie version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you have a dim idea of what this book is about. It tells the story of Holly Golightly, a free-spirited Manhattan call girl—or at least it tells bits of her story as seen by the unnamed narrator, a writer who lives upstairs from her.
At first, the narrator observes Holly from afar, only interacting with her when she loses her key (which she always does) and rings the doorbell of his apartment to be let in:
But if Miss Golightly remained unconscious of my existence, except as a doorbell convenience, I remained through the summer, rather an authority on hers. I discovered, from observing the trash-basket outside her door, that her regular reading consisted of tabloids and travel folders and astrological charts; that she smoked an esoteric cigarette called Picayunes; survived on cottage cheese and melba toast; that her vari-colored hair was somewhat self-induced. The same source made it evident that she received V-letters by the bale. They were always torn into strips like little bookmarks. I used occassionally to pluck myself a bookmark in passing. Remember and miss you and rain and please write and damn and goddamn were the words that recurred most often on these slips; those, and lonesome and love.
Eventually, the narrator becomes wrapped up in Holly’s life, but it’s unclear whether he ever really gets to know her. She’s crafted a persona that appears to be a free and happy life of the party, but it’s hard to tell where the persona ends and the person begins. Perhaps even Holly herself doesn’t know. O. J. Berman, her former agent, says of Holly, “She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes. You can’t talk her out of it.”
This mystery of who Holly really is drives the narrative; the plot (which includes an abandoned husband, a Brazilian diplomat, and a headline-making arrest) is beside the point. Holly herself is the story, and she’s enough, especially when captured in Capote’s wonderful prose.
The edition of Breakfast at Tiffany’s that I read includes three short stories: “House of Flowers,” “A Diamond Guitar” and “A Christmas Memory.” All three stories are great. They demonstrate Capote’s skill with both the sentimental and the subversive. In fact, I think they might even be superior to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
This book is my fifth for the 1% Well-Read Challenge, which leaves me with five to go!