Book Review: Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

breakfast_at_tiffanysWhat’s it about?

It’s New York in the 1940s, where the martinis flow from cocktail hour till breakfast at Tiffany’s. And nice girls don’t, except, of course, for Holly Golightly: glittering socialite traveller, generally upwards, sometimes sideways and once in a while – down. Pursued by to Salvatore ‘Sally’ Tomato, the Mafia sugar-daddy doing life in Sing Sing and ‘Rusty’ Trawler, the blue-chinned, cuff-shooting millionaire man about women about town, Holly is a fragile eyeful of tawny hair and turned-up nose, a heart-breaker, a perplexer, a traveller, a tease. She is irrepressibly ‘top banana in the shock deparment’, and one of the shining flowers of American fiction.

My thoughts

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of my all time favourite movies; full of glamour and quirkiness and so I’d put off reading the book for a long time. There’s always that sense of anticpation of disappointment and of how different it will be, which I guess can work both ways.

I hadn’t realised that it’s actually a short story at only 87 pages so  I actually read it in 2 sittings. The book is quite different to the movie; the essence of the book is there and the general plot is the same but is often planned out in different scenes.

Book Holly is certainly a darker character and not necessarily a nice one; she comes across as an IT girl and is definitely a goldigger making her living by visits to the powder room ahem!! and visiting a mobster in prison.

“Leave it to me: I’m always top banana in the shock department.”

However, movie Holly is somewhat flaky and likes to talk in riddles, which initially comes across as scatty nonsense although look deeper and there is some kind of sense there. Neither version of Holly seem to care about they treat other people, in essence using older unattractive men for money; the exception being Fred her brother, he’s the one person I think she really cares about.

“You’re wrong. She is a phony. But on the other hand you’re right. 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.”

The book ending is quite different to the movie and I actually preferred the romantic movie ending. This is supposed to be a love story but there isn’t much romantisicm at all.

Overall, I was a little disappointed by the book and enjoyed the cinematic experience of the story a lot more. For me , this is one instance where I prefer the movie to the book. However, if you’ve not read the book or seen the movie and it interests you, go straight to the movie. If I’d have read the book first I wouldn’t have got to the movie.

This version contains 3 other short stories: House of Flowers, A Diamond Guitar and A Christmas Memory – I didn’t read these this time but may come back to them at another time.

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Discover more about the author Truman Capote

 

Book Review: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the SeaWhat’s it about?

Set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, Hemingway’s magnificent fable is the story of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish.

It was The Old Man and the Sea that won for Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here, in a perfectly crafted story, is a unique and timeless vision of the beauty and grief of man’s challenge to the elements in which he lives.

My thoughts

This was our book club read for August, something I wouldn’t have picked for myself but that’s what book club is all about. This was the first Hemingway book that I’ve read and it didn’t really make me go looking for more. However, it’s short and sweet at just over 100 pages depending on which version you’ve got, so doesn’t last too long.

There are two things that immediately stick out for this book, firstly no names are used; the Old Man is just the Old Man and the Boy is the Boy and secondly there no chapters or any real natural breaks. For someone who likes to read in chapters that was a problem.

I did wonder who the Old Man was and what his relationship with the boy was. I think they were related; maybe his grandson as they did share a close relationship.

With an unsuccessful fishing record this old man is out to prove something…whether that’s to himself, the boy or the other fisherman who knows?  It’s a short story of a battle between the old man and the sea and the big fish he hooks. I’m sure there’s something deep and meaningful meant to be taken from this book – maybe perserverance for something you want and know you can achieve given enough time but it’s your own interpretation.

Overall, there’s a couple of quite exciting paragraphs but a lot of fishing and baseball talk. You’ll feel sorry for the Old Man, feel the isolation and the frustration of the sea but overall not one I think I’d recommend even if it did win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

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Find out more about Ernest Hemingway here

Tell me…which book have you read the most number of times?

Becky over at Blogs-Of-A-Bookaholic has set herself a 30 Day Book Challenge with some really great questions. I would have loved to be able to post every day as well along with her but just don’t have the time. However, she has allowed other bloggers to ‘borrow’ her questions and join in.

The first question I picked from Becky’s list is ‘the book you’ve read the most number of times‘. This is an easy question for me as I’ve only ever read one book more than once, my all time favourite, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

To Kill A Mockingbird

First published in 1960 and a winner of the Pulitizer Prize this was Harper Lee’s one and only novel.

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition.

I first read this book in secondary school for an English project and was probably the only set text I’ve ever enjoyed! I can’t really pinpoint the one thing that I love about this book but just know I love all of it.

I love the straight talking of Atticus, he really is a modern day hero. I love the innocence of Jem and Scout and the things they get up to reminds me of my childhood antics with my brother. It’s a fantastic book that deals with some really sensitive issues and excellently demonstrates the racial inequality of the time and the lack of justice – probably where my interest in law came from.

to-kill-a-mockingbird court scene

Tom awaits his fate

I love the black and white film with Gregory Peck. It’s so simple and brings the characters to life so well. I’ve even seen a stage play at the theatre which was a whole other experience! The book is really well written and Harper Lee has the knack of flipping between adult and child perspective and narrative with such ease.

There are some deep moral issues raised in this book with some brilliant quotes, mostly from Atticus; here are some of my favourites:

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.

And ultimately…

I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.

I just might have to go and read it again now 🙂

Tell me…what is the book you’ve read the most number of times?

Book Review: The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

the_picture_of_dorian_grayWhat’s it about?

Wilde’s only novel, first published in 1890, is a brilliantly designed puzzle, intended to tease conventional minds with its exploration of the myriad interrelationships between art, life, and consequence. From its provocative Preface, challenging the reader to believe in ‘art for art’s sake’, to its sensational conclusion, the story self-consciously experiments with the notion of sin as an element of design. Yet Wilde himself underestimated the consequences of his experiment, and its capacity to outrage the Victorian establishment. Its words returned to haunt him in his court appearances in 1895, and he later recalled the ‘note of doom’ which runs like ‘a purple thread’ through its carefully crafted prose.

My Overall Review

So the read-along is now over, it’s been analysed and debated so here are my final thoughts on The Picture of Dorian Gray. To be fair, this was quite a good book to start with in terms of the online read-along experience. It’s not overly long and the language isn’t that difficult to grasp (certainly easier than Thomas Hardy). However, I was glad that I had read it on my Kindle as I used the dictionary A LOT!

It starts off ok, sets the plot quite nicely but the block pages and pages of flowery waffle are really off-putting. I did find myself losing interest in the descriptions of the garden, or the flowers or jewellery or whatever it was. Particularly in chapter 11  where I found myself totally bored  of the obsession with the ‘yellow book’, I have to admit I just skipped passages of this (I didn’t feel like I was missing out!).

Also, nothing is explicit in this book, it’s all implied. There is a homosexual infatuation theme running throughout but it’s not actually spelt out. At the time of publication homosexual acts were against the law (some punishable by death I believe) so Wilde couldn’t have openly written what is implied. I think that the whole basis of the book is to highlight the consequences of worshiping and glorifying beauty and not what’s inside!

I enjoyed taking part in the read-along, it gave me the motivation to continue but I did feel a little under pressure as the others in the group read really quickly and I was lagging behind slightly due to other commitments. I think would like to take part in another online read-along but only if I more available time so I didn’t feel so rushed as I could have put more a bit more thought into my answers. It’s interesting to read the other answers in conjuction with your own and think oh yeah, I hadn’t thought of that etc

There are an abundance of clever witty quotes in the book, too many to mention in fact, but these are a couple of my favourites:

You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.

Spoken by Lord Henry to Dorian before the start of Dorian’s downfall – Dorian then goes on to commit such sins!

Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing

I like this quote because I still think its relevant now, lots of Wilde’s words and phrases could have been written yesterday – very clever!

Overall I’m just glad I’ve read it and crossed it off my list 🙂

The Picture of Dorian Gray read-along check in #2

the-picture-of-dorian-gray-copy

So here we are at the second check in for the blog read-along of The Picture of Dorian Gray. So far, I’m not loving it, having seen the 2009 adaptation I still feel I’m waiting for something momentous to happen. Perhaps all will be revealed in the final 6 chapters.

Here are the questions and answers that I set for the second discussion:

What impact does Sibyl’s suicide have on Dorian?

Bookboodle

I think that Dorian was embarrassed to have built up Sybil to Basil and Henry as this amazing actress and was utterly disappointed in her performance. He was incredibly cruel to her probably due to realising that he enjoyed her acting more than Sibyl herself. When he notices the change in the painting and then learns of Sibyl’s death this seems to prompt the start of the loss of self-control.

Blogs-Of-A-Bookaholic

I think Sibyl’s suicide is a real turning point for Dorian, but not in a good way. The night before her death Dorian is cruel to her on discovering she is not genius or artistic as he originally thought but simply appeared this way though her on stage acting. I think he sees this as the reinforcement of Lord Henry’s cynical views on the importance of pleasure over love as he discovers the veil of infatuation has lifted after only a short time. In the morning he wakes determined to continue the engagement and be noble but Henry informs him of her death. He grieves for a short time before realising that he is not in fact all that affected. Once Sibyl is gone and he discovers the magic of the painting and that he will never grow old, there is nothing else standing in the way of Lord Henry’s philosophies and he gives into them fully to pursue a life of pleasure, artistic aesthetics and immorality.

Miscrawl

I agree with Becky, Sybil’s suicide marks a definite change in Dorian’s character for the worst. It shows him as rather cold, selfish and emotionally distant. He loses his moral compass and his touch with reality at this point. He behaves horribly to Sybil, rejecting her love because she dared to trivialise acting, then only has a change of heart when he realises that his beautiful painting develops a cruel mouth as a result of his actions. After a conversation with the ghastly Lord Henry, Dorian behaves as if Sybil’s death is absolutely nothing to do with him. He is unbelievably manipulated yet he consistently accepts the advice without question. The suicide is the first step on the slippery slope as Dorian realises that his ‘sins’ can be reflected upon the painting rather than on his own face.

Venuskitten

Dorian Gray’s impetuous and short-lived engagement to Sybil Vane marks a turning point in the novel and the beginning of Dorian’s descent into a darker and more menacing world than the glittering rich society that he inhabits in the first part of the novel.

Dorian becomes engaged to Sibyl after becoming infatuated with her acting talent and her performance on stage in the theatre.  Ironically, his feelings for her destroy the talent that he admired; her performance after her engagement was lacklustre (she explains that she could think only of Dorian while on stage) and Dorian’s infatuation vanishes in an instant, and he breaks their engagement.  Standing before his portrait next morning, he reflects on his behaviour towards her, and the callous way he treated her.  Nevertheless, and with some regret, he blames her; “she disappointed him….,she was shallow and unworthy”.  Noticing that the portrait seems to have changed as though it has been defiled by his betrayal of Sibyl (it has bloodstains that were not present in the original painting), Dorian Gray resolves to try to make amends, to marry Sibyl and to try to love her, but she has already committed suicide in despair.

After Sibyl’s death, outwardly maintains his high society life and country house parties, but he also frequents the worst slum ares of London to buy drugs and he resorts to murder.  The contrast between the two parts of  his life is shocking to the reader.

Discuss Dorian’s portrait. What does it represent? What does it suggest about the effect of experience on the soul and why does he hide it in the attic?

The picture is a representation of his inner self, his soul! Whilst he stays young and attractive on the outside, the portrait is portraying what’s happening on the inside. The darker and deeper he falls into a life of vices the worse this picture is going to be.

I think he’s hidden it in the attic because a) he can’t quite figure out what’s happening to it and b) because he’s ashamed of it and doesn’t want to have to explain his lifestyle choices and consequences to Basil.

Dorian’s picture represents his real soul. The portrait bears the burden of his real age, sins and passions while he will forever appear young, innocent and unaffected by the darker sides of the world. I guess this suggests that throughout life our experiences and true nature form a sort of blueprint or map on our face of who we really are through our wrinkles, eyes and mouth.

I think Dorian hides the portrait in the attic because he is ashamed of his soul. Even though he revels in the freedom of youth the painting gives him he worries that people will see him for the horror he really is. Locking it up in the attic is a way to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

The painting serves as a physical manifestation of Dorian’s sins and actions. So much emphasis is placed on beauty that he is terrified to lose his youthful good looks to old age and experience. He wishes that the portrait of himself will bear the brunt of his lifestyle and choices so that he can forever remain beautiful and different. The painting becomes the canvas of Dorian’s soul. When we look at a person’s face, we tend to read the wrinkles, the frown lines, the laughter crinkles, and imagine what kind of life they have lead. Wilde is suggesting that a person’s life experiences become etched on the internal soul, so Dorian choosing the painting as his soul means that it is externally laid bare for the world to see. Of course, this terrifies Dorian because he wants people to think that he naturally retains his youth. He wants to be envied and adored, not discovered for the fraud that he is. He hides the painting in the attic to save face, but also so it isn’t a constant reminder of the horrible sins he is committing. Out of sight, out of mind. Or so he thinks. Even though he appears to show little remorse or thought over his actions, you can tell by the way he hides the painting that they do plague him.

I think that the portrait represents the soul; the artist says at the beginning of the novel that he would never exhibit the painting because he has put so much of himself into it and could not bear to have his soul exhibited and exposed for all to see and interpret.

The portrait begins to change and deteriorate from the time of Dorian Gray’s rejection of Sibyl Vane (see above), as though the portrait exhibits the faults and amoral character of the soul. Dorian Gray’s indirect destruction of Sibyl is shown as bloodstains in the portrait.  I think that Sibyl’s death is the destruction and betrayal of youth and innocence; Dorian refers to her as a child and we are told that she is aged only seventeen.

The author suggests that the soul reflects the experiences of the physical entity that it inhabits (so that the Dorian cannot bear to see the deterioration of his soul displayed in the portrait and hides it from view.

Dorian’s scandalous behavior shocks his peers, yet he remains welcome in social circles? Why? What is Wilde suggesting about “polite” London society?

I think he’s still welcome in his social circles because they all find him so intriguing and so attractive that they can’t possibly oust him? It wouldn’t be the done thing to ostracise him!

Hmm interesting question, I’m not too sure about this one. Maybe he is trying to portray that the polite London society doesn’t really exist. It is mentioned several times in the book how horrible and useless English society is, so I guess he is saying it may look polite on the outside, but on the inside many other people are also as vain as Dorian and desperate to seek life’s pleasures as Dorian but do not have the luxury of doing it.

I genuinely think people are in awe of Dorian and mystified by him. His beauty basically carries him within society. He continues to act in the same careless manner and refuses to change his behaviour even though there are scandalous rumours constantly circulating about him. It seems like “polite” London society loves a good scandal and revel in being outraged. They dislike his actions yet he is continually invited to social occasions probablybecause of his actions. Entertainment? Dorian is the intriguing cad that they love to hate. It also suggests the society is highly contradictory and hypocritical. They placed Dorian on a pedestal within the first few chapters, marvelling at his youth and beauty. It was constantly said that he was adored, admired, and everybody wanted a piece of him. Then, they are eager to see him brought down. They’re like a pack of wolves I tell you. It’s all so incredibly vacuous and fake.

Wilde suggests that London society is shallow and hypocritical; wealth, aristocracy and the right connections are more highly valued than morals.  London society will overlook (and even be complicit in) scandals.

Wilde says that “civilised society …is never ready to believe anything to the detriment of those who are both rich and fascinating” and that “manners are more important than morals”.  He goes on to say that society values the possession of a good chef more highly than the highest respectability; a witty and perceptive comment that highlights the shallow views of London society.

Dorian Gray’s wealth and fascinating youthful looks effectively afford him the protection and high regard of London society.

I found all of the questions very perceptive and they really made me think hard about the book!  I didn’t look at anyone else’s answers before sending mine.

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Thanks all for answering the questions with such indepth and well thought out answers. Look out for Miscrawl’s questions when we’ve completed the book which I’ll re-blog.