In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

First published in 1965

In Cold Blood is said to be the original non-fiction novel, based on a true crime in a small town called Holcomb, in Kansas, USA, in which a family of four were killed without apparent purpose – hence “in cold blood”. In light of recent political events, it seemed like an apt time to read American book set in the Midwest. I feel that as non-Americans we’re often fed California and New York, the East and the West coasts, but not much of others. The barren landscape of Holcomb seems like to the forgotten part of the US that came to light more recently.

I don’t usually read crime fiction, and I don’t watch crime TV series. But I watch a lot of crime documentaries. I’m not sure why I don’t have interest in crime as work of fiction at all – I just see little point in it, even though some may be inspired by true events. But in documentary format, I can’t get enough of!

I’d consider In Cold Blood as journalistic piece, albeit in a narrative that is close to novel. Other people may argue about the proportion of fiction and non-fiction elements in the book, but I’m on the side of ‘never let truth get in the way of a good story’. I don’t mind reconstruction of personal events and dialogues in between the hard facts.

I’ve always liked Truman Capote. I’ve read Breakfast at Tiffany’s and some of his other short stories. And I’m glad that I liked In Cold Blood too, very much. The beginning was a tad slow, and it took me longer than his other works to get into, but once the murder happens – about 50 pages in, it just flowed.

There are liberal sprinkles of single quotes, marking words, phrases, and sentences that I assume were taken out of the real people’s mouths, such that the book at times seems like a long string of people’s words put together by Capote. He filled in the gaps, and knitted them into a coherent single piece.

It is quite an amazing piece of work. I can only imagine the extraordinary amount of research and energy put into the book. And probably most important of all, the story telling ability of the author. Why this case? There are so many murder cases around, some of which are similar. Because for one reason or another, this was the case that just happened to come to Capote, at the right time. Just like Sarah Koenig with the Adnan case (Serial podcast). It came to her at the right time, and something in it piqued her interest. Thanks to the storytellers, these cases get their stories told, immortalised in some ways, unlike so many others that are buried and forgotten forever except in the memories of the few friends and families. In Cold Blood showed me once again the power of storytelling.

Mee’s rating: 4.5/5

Movie companion: Capote (2005)

I watched Capote starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman soon after finishing In Cold Blood. I’d been meaning to watch it since it came out, but insisted I read In Cold Blood first, because I knew the movie is about Capote researching materials for the book. After reading and watching, I do recommend people to read the book first!

Prior to watching the movie, I didn’t know what Truman Capote was like. I knew he was gay, but that’s about it. It was immediately apparent that he had quite specific mannerism. He was flamboyant in his speech and dressing, portrayed so well by Hoffman. People say that in fact Capote was even more exuberant in real life, and Hoffman had toned down his portrayal. I have not seen other movies portraying Capote, like Infamous (starring Toby Jones), so I can’t compare, but I was impressed by PSH. I always liked him.

The movie showed things that happened in the making of the book, behind the scene. I mentioned the research and energy put into it. It’s even more emphasised in the movie, though in a slightly different way than I expected. Truman Capote inserted himself completely in the case, and was not just an observer. He influenced how certain things went, he had relationships with the inmates, namely Perry Smith and Richard/Dick Hickock, but especially Perry Smith.

I guess in a way it shouldn’t be surprising. After all In Cold Blood humanises the perpetrators. He couldn’t have done it without personal relationships with the guys. But in the movie Capote went steps further. He manipulated them in some ways, to get the story that he needed. It was a very complex relationship. Seems very taxing to say the least. And at the end In Cold Blood was the last book Capote ever finished, and was his last masterpiece. It’s as if it has taken everything that he had.

Another striking point is, in the movie Capote was shown as someone with a big ego, who enjoyed being the centre of attention. But in In Cold Blood, he completely disappeared. There is no ‘I’, ‘I think’, ‘in my opinion’, or any sign of him present. I find this remarkable, the ability to extract yourself completely from your writing, especially now knowing how he was as a person. Something that I am still learning.

It wasn’t a perfect movie, as there were some discrepancies with the book that bothered me a little. But I still rated it highly.

Mee’s rating: 8/10

 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote and the Movie

New York 1940s. Playgirl Breakfast at Tiffany'sHolly Golightly captures the heart of everybody that passes her path. Our narrator, Fred — as she calls him, is a shy wannabe writer. Neighbours at first, they start to develop a unique relationship.

Holly is all charm — the type that men want but can’t have, free as a bird. Along the story I could feel Fred, there’s a want and need to get closer to her, but never could. Breakfast at Tiffany’s IS Holly. We get a glimpse of her captivating life and adorable personality, but couldn’t get more. There’s a sense of loss when she’s distanced.

The thin ice that she and Fred play on was interesting — friendship though not without a doze of attraction and jealousy, but I wouldn’t go as far as calling it romantic like the back cover states.

Quote

“Perhaps, like most of us in a foreign country, he was incapable of placing people, selecting a frame for their picture, as he would at home; therefore all Americans had to be judged in a pretty equal light, and on this basis his companions appeared to be tolerable examples of local colour and national character.” ~ Fred on a foreigner, p54

4 stars

truman capoteTruman Capote could be my next favorite author, though for me it’s mainly for the next three short stories that come with the book I was reading. For the first time in the longest time, I actually enjoyed short stories.

House of Flowers
Ottilie is the favorite girl of the bar she’s working at, until one day a young man captures her heart. They get married in two days and she moves to his house. Unfortunately he has an evil mother who bothers her to no end. I thought the story as a whole was a bit odd, because it’s 3/4 love story and 1/4 creepy story, complete with witchcraft. Pretty good short story for the RIP Challenge. 4 stars

A Diamon Guitar
The theme is freakishly similar with the movie Shawshank Redemption which I just watched in the same week: story of two inmates. Mr Schaeffer is an old resident of the prison to where Tico Feo is sent to. They grow to become close friends. Some days Tico Feo starts to put some ideas to Mr Schaeffer that escaping to freedom is better than to merely accept their life in prison. 4 stars


A Christmas Memory
This is my favorite short story of the lot! A Christmas Memory tells a gentle relationship between a 7 year-old boy and a 60ish woman. Bound by circumstances, they live together and take much joy in each other’s company, baking fruitcakes and gathering flowers and herbs.

Please, somebody make animated short out of this story! I could picture it in my head so much it’s not funny. If I didn’t read the book at a public bus stop, I would cry a few tears over this odd couple.

IT’S SO GOOD! SO GOOD! To add to my gush, this story is autobiographical. I never imagined I would ever find a 5 STARS SHORT STORY! 5 stars

I read that A Christmas Memory has also been made into a short movie (non-cartoon), which I might check out later. But I’m worried that it might ruin my perfect experience of this cute little story. Anyhoo, let me disrupt this review a bit by showing you a short by Disney/Pixar of The Little Match Girl. I imagine something with this style would be a perfect medium to adapt the story.

Overall rating for the book:
4 stars
1958, 157 pp

First line
I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighbourhoods.

Last line
African hut or whatever, I hope Holly has, too.

Challenges
(Another) 1% Well-Read Challenge (book #6)
The Spice of Life Challenge (book #2)
Orbis Terrarum Challenge 2009 (book #9 1/2)
1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die Challenge (book #24)

Also reviewed by
Reading and Ruminations
| Shelf Love | Life and Times of a “New” New Yorker | Life is a Patchwork Quilt | In Spring it is the Dawn | book-a-rama | Reading Matters | The Bluestocking Society | Ready When You Are, C.B. | Ticket to Anywhere | Orpheus Sings the Guitar Electric | 5 Minutes for Books | Nonsuch Book | casual dread | Books for Breakfast | The Magic Lasso | katrina’s reads

Did I miss yours?

The Guardian Digested Classics of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (not recommended. Go read the book!)

breakfast_at_tiffany_sThe Movie

The book and the movie is different in a good way. I’d say each has its own merits. But this is one of those rare cases where I think the movie adaption could actually surpass the book, even though the relationship between the main characters and the ending were changed! I loved Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. Gorgeous, captivating, vulnerable. She was perfect. Unlike the book, yes, you can call the movie romantic.

Apart from the changes I mentioned above, “Fred” is portrayed as someone who accepts money for companionship (did I just say gigolo in a very nice way?), which I found oddly forced to balance Holly. Talking about accepting money for companionship, some people blatantly label Holly as prostitute. I refuse to label her that. She’s a much more complex character, both in personality and in ‘profession’, which is what makes her so iconic and memorable.

Below is the trailer to the movie. Beware that there are some spoilers in it. (Why people put spoilers in trailer I would never understand.)

I loved Audrey Hepburn! Did I say I loved her? I really want to watch her other movies now! Do you have any to recommend?

1961, 115 min
Rating: 8/10

The Guardian – Breakfast at Tiffany’s: When Audrey Hepburn won Marilyn Monroe’s role (great article!)

Have you read Capote before? What do you think of his works?

Have you watched the movie? Which one did you like more?

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