Novella reviews: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hardboiled & Hard Luck

breakfast_at_tiffanys cover Hardboiled Yoshimoto

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote.

1958. ebook. (Paperback edition runs to 178 pages, which includes three additional short stories)

Review:

At the very beginning of my sophomore year in college, I found myself with nothing to do on a Friday night. My roommate was heading home for the weekend, and most of my friends had gone to see “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” on campus. I don’t remember why I wasn’t with them, except perhaps that I had already seen the movie twice (and that really was more than enough). I was feeling a little lonely, though I was pretty good at occupying myself and would have been okay. But my roommate felt bad for me and called up her friend Emily to see if I could hang out with her – “I don’t want to leave my roommate here by herself.” Feeling awkward, I joked: “and here are the emergency numbers and this is what my roommate likes to eat . . .”

Emily lived in a basement room in another dormitory, loved the song “Drops of Jupiter”, and her Friday evening plans involved watching her favorite movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with her friend Robin – and now me, as well. I brought popcorn, had a good time and liked the movie. I never spent time with Emily or Robin again and I’ve never rewatched “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

So in my head “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” has always been categorized as “someone else’s favorite movie” and I remembered it more for the odd circumstances in which I saw it, than for any of its own qualities. Love of the movie didn’t compel me to read the book, in other words – just curiosity about Capote’s original story.

Now that I’ve basically used this review as an excuse for anecdote/storytime, let me say a few words on the novella itself. It’s definitely an entertaining, well-written read. I have a real soft spot for books that are adept at dialogue, and all the words uttered by Holly Golightly have such a strong sense of tone and wit that her character just pops from the page, like a striking color in a photo. The unnamed narrator bears a strong resemblance to the Great Gatsby‘s Nick Carraway – at one point, he overhears Holly describe him as someone whose “nose is pressed against the glass”. I also enjoyed all the references to the time: the story takes place during World War II but there is only one moment where the war truly touches the lives of the characters. Other than that, there are tantalizing but vague references to draft boards and men in the armed services.

There were three other stories included in the ebook version I downloaded from my public library’s Overdrive account, but I had little interest in them. My curiosity extended to Breakfast at Tiffany’s and that’s it. I don’t even think Capote’s In Cold Blood is on my to-read list. As I put together this review, I read a couple of reviews where the bloggers said they liked the short stories better than Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Oh well.

Excerpts of others’ reviews:

Alita Reads – “As I finished the book, I realized that the whole story is enveloped in bitter-sweet nostalgia, which is what makes it so endearing.”

Annotation Nation – “Capote is not content with story clichés, nor character clichés . . . Holly is not the Heroine-Who-Cannot-Escape-Her-Past, nor is she the Live-Fast-Die-Young-Reckless femme fatale. She is not the girl, who, with a bit more polish, could have made a go of it in society, or in the movies. She is the corners and subtleties of fragile human existence and the simple scramble to get a toehold in this life.”

Literary Stew – “Capote’s writing is pitch perfect with not a word wasted. It flows wonderfully and it’s so easy to just read this 111 page novella in one sitting.”

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Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto

1999. English translation 2005. Grove Press. Hardcover. 149 pages.

I read Yoshimoto’s Goodbye Tsugumi several years ago and admired the way Yoshimoto captured the atmosphere of summer nights. With Hardboiled & Hard Luck, the atmosphere is autumnal: “Hardboiled” is a ghost story and “Hard Luck” takes place in November, and uses that season to add an extra layer of meaning to its story about a young woman whose sister is dying.

Of the two novellas, I liked “Hardboiled” the best. The unnamed narrator stays the night in a haunted hotel, unwittingly on the anniversary of her ex-lover’s death. The narrator’s dreams of her ex-girlfriend Chizuru and the appearance of a strange visitor lend a slightly creepy tone to the story, though there is an underlying warmth.

At least in translation, Yoshimoto’s writing style comes across as very spare, with a few jarring notes. When I reviewed Goodbye Tsugumi years ago, commenters overwhelmingly recommended her novel Kitchen, which I have yet to pick up, but will someday.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

An Adventure in Reading – “[Yoshimoto’s writing is] easy to read, and her female characters are well written, but they don’t make me fall in love with the stories.

A Striped Armchair – “She’s so wonderful at bringing the reader straight into the emotions of her characters, of making their stories feel immediately important.”

Tony’s Reading List – “And that is the enigma that is Banana Yoshimoto: when she’s bad, she’s horrid – but she isn’t always bad.  Despite myself, I found myself becoming absorbed in the story she unravels, a calming, numbing tale that works around familiar themes.”

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Novella reviews: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hardboiled & Hard Luck

  1. I love the categorization “someone else’s favorite movie” — there are a lot of movies in this world that go into that category for me. Like, movies I liked fine but what they are to me is someone else’s favorite. Like The Station Agent.

    • Yeah, I could see The Station Agent being someone’s favorite movie – though I don’t know of someone specifically, it’s the kind of quirky film that probably shot straight into someone’s quirk frequency.

  2. I think I may need to reread Breakfast at Tiffanys. I read it after seeing the movie and I never quite ‘got’ either of them. And I am no fan at all of Capote’s other work–except In Cold Blood. That is an exceptional book. But the rest of Capote I can live without.

    • I’m a sucker for lively dialogue in books, so Breakfast in Tiffany’s could charm me on that alone. From what I’ve read in others’ reviews, In Cold Blood seems to be a love it or hate it type of book.

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