All my life, I have heard how fantastic the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is, with gorgeous Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. But I was also told that it is a film about a luxury prostitute, which might account for why I have never ever seen the film nor have I read the book, until today. Yes, Audrey Hepburn was the most beautiful woman of her time. And I have walked around with a black and white bag, covered with her face, wearing the tiara and bling glued to it, and her holding her famous cigarette. But it hardly makes this a good book, because I do not concur with other readers, I honestly do not find this a good novel. Not even a half decent novel.
The woman who wrote the foreword in my Swedish edition, which I bought and read today, claimed that everybody raved about the book when it came out in 1958. Holly was the new woman, who everyone should aspire to be like. A woman who did as she pleased. Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part in the film, but she refused. So the role went to Audrey instead.
But since when do we applaud prostitution? And since when do we applaud promiscuity? Because when it all boils down to it, this is a book about a prostitute, a drug-addict, a party girl like Britain’s Essex girls and Stockhom’s Stureplan girls. But even worse, about pedophilia. And to claim that this is a classic, world literature? I claim that it is a deeply disturbing book, if society suddenly thought that women ought to become Holly Golightlys.
The book does not really have Holly Golightly, as the main character. Instead we have a young man as the protagonist, a young man living above her flat, somewhere in New York. It is not a building of well to do people and the young man is struggling to become an author. Why he is not in service, is never explained. But the book really takes place in 1943 and there is a desperate lack of men in uniform or signs of war, throughout.
For a while, Holly calls the young man “Fred” after her brother, whom he according to her, resembles. So I will call him Fred in this review. Fred is contacted one day, many years after the fact, to come and look at something, at a bar he used to frequent. The bar owner, Joe Bell, has a photo of an African statue to show him. And both agree, the statue looks just like Holly Golightly, whom they have not heard from, for ages, but the statue proves that she must have been in Africa. It is the description of the statue which really describes Holly to us. Too big eyes, a mouth too big for her face, short boy cut hair. Not at all a look that describes Marilyn Monroe, but not really Audrey either.
From then on, we are back in 1943, and Fred describes that he lives in the same house as Holly for a long time, before they actually meet. But he does hear her voice every time people have to let her in to the house at night, her not caring to bring a key and not caring about other people’s sleeping habits. He does not meet her proper until she climbs in through his window one day, trying to avoid a boring “client”. Because clients she have. She informs Fred that you get 50 dollars to go in to the ladies’ room with gentlemen at the clubs and restaurants she frequents, and that is and will always be prostitution.
He is invited for drinks at her flat, but when he arrives, he is not prepared for anything that he encounters. Holly sees herself as a traveller. She is always packed to go at short notice. So nothing in her flat is unpacked. And he is not the only man invited that evening, quite the contrary. All men equally disappointed that they are not the one and only invited. He gets to meet with her fiancée, the overgrown baby, Rutherfurd “Rusty” Trawler, who is too rich for his own good and who refuses to accept that he is homosexual. He gets to meet Holly’s former Hollywood agent, O.J. Berman, who tried to get her in to the film industry, but had to accept that the bird fled to New York, in order to avoid the first screen test. But the flat is full of men in uniform, yes here they are mentioned. Once! And most of them are in their middle age or above, while Holly is only 19 and I assume Fred to be of the same age. They are all hunkering after having sex with Holly and I guess you can say what you will about that.
The party is suddenly interrupted by photo model Mag Wildwood, who at first charms everyone, but when she visits the loo, Holly gets rid of the competition, by spreading around that Mag has a venereal disease. That makes most of the men run and believe it or not, but after a night of drinking, Holly and Mag become best friends and Mag moves in as a paying lodger.
During the weeks to come, in September 1943, Fred goes all over with Holly, trying to get to know her. He finds out that she visits an old man in prison every Thursday, whose name is Salvatore “Sally” Tomato, and she is paid $100 for the effort, by his lawyer. All she has to do is keep Sally happy and bring a coded message back to the lawyer, to prove that she has been to the prison.
But their friendship becomes difficult to uphold when Fred gets an office job and their times do not parallel each other. They do give each other a Christmas present though, and thanks to extra trips to the ladies’ room, Holly buys him a much coveted bird-cage from an antique shop. He on the other hand has splurged at Tiffany’s and bought her a S:t Christopher’s medal, since she travels so much. Tiffany’s being the place she goes to during her frequent panic attacks, since nothing bad ever happens there.
Up till then in the book, things have not been too bad for Holly. She enjoys life, playing with her hair and colouring it in all the shades of the rainbow (hardly sounding like a beauty, like Audrey Hepburn) at the same time, drinking and selling herself to her heart’s content. But one day a Dr. Golightly shows up at the house and informs Fred that Holly, or Lulamae Barnes, is his wife. She and her brother came to his house in Texas as children, trying to steal eggs and milk. He kept them there and raised them with his children. He had lost his wife 4 July 1936 and in December 1938, he married Lulamae alias Holiday (Holly) who had not even turned 14! He had spoiled her rotten so that his own children worked hard on the farm, while she could sit and read ladies’ magazines and take care of her looks. And one day she had just walked away. He had searched for her ever since, to bring her home to her children and husband, where she belonged. When Holly gets back home that day, she goes to bed with her husband and then sends him packing.
The next part of the storyline, tells past tense, how Mag and her Brazilian lover José, who can not be connected with scandal, since he is trying to become President in Brazil one day, went on holiday in the Caribbean with Rusty Trawler and Holly. Rusty got in to a fight which landed him in hospital and Mag had sun tanned a wee bit too much, so while she and Rusty were bedridden, José and Holly travelled about together. This caused great jealousy in the bedridden people and to pay the others back, the two of them got married. Unfortunately, it did not have the effect they expected, since José and Holly only laughed at the entire thing. But the laughter did not last very long for Holly. She receives a telegram that her beloved brother has been killed in action, and she suddenly becomes a prisoner in her own home, by choice. José becomes her lover and moves in with her and proudly she tells “Fred” that she is six weeks pregnant and that she and José are off to Brazil, where they will get married.
But before that happens, Holly gets arrested. Sally Tomato was not as innocent as she thought him to be. The newspapers have a fun time writing up stories about Holly being an international drug dealer. All the coded messages were pertaining to Tomato’s mafia empire, and while the police soon realize that Holly is innocent, they want to use her to bring down the mafia empire of Tomato. José of course has fled to Brazil and wants no more part in Holly’s life. She miscarries the baby. Tomato dies in prison suddenly. And Holly escapes justice by using her pre-paid ticket to go to Rio. The only thing “Fred” ever hears from her again, is that she is living in Argentina, being the mistress of a married man.
When I read the last page I thought “That was it? What was the point?”. It is a story about a girl, who was sexually abused from the time she was a little girl and for some reason she had accepted that as a normal part of life. It is about a girl who decides who she is going to have sex with for money. And who numbs her pain by fleeing from it with alcohol, drugs and running from place to place. But how long will she be able to run away from herself? Critics can sit and say that this is a fantastic book, written ten years before the sexual revolution, and those men saying that she is a free spirit, can believe this, if it makes them feel good. But the truth is, that this is a deeply disturbing story about something which should not have been allowed to happen and about a girl trapped in prostitution. But noone in the story reacts to that. Nor the critics that raise the storyline to the skies. For that reason, Audrey Hepburn, the goddess, should not have been chosen to play the part. She made it all look normal, no doubt, fascinating and alright.
Apart from the storyline then? Well, I read a translation so I can not say anything about Capote’s language skills. But I enjoy a good storyteller and a storyteller, Capote is NOT. We only get to see flashes out of Holly’s and Fred’s lives. And since Fred is the story’s narrator, it is deeply disappointing to not find out a thing about him, except that he tries to write and finally succeeds. We can guess that he has fallen in love with Holly, like all other men, but why? According to the book, she is no beauty. Skinny and ugly is how she is described. So then it must be the prospect of sex that lures them all in to her nets. Including Fred, who by the sounds of it, never did get lucky. To be honest, after reading the short book, which is read in an hour or two, you feel completely empty. You have wasted your time and your money. And you realize that all you have learned, is nothing.