It was then that she asked about Jose. The instant she saw the letter, she squinted her eyes and bent her lips in a tough tiny smile that advanced her age immeasurably.
“Darling,” she instructed me, “Would you reach in the drawer there and give me my purse? A girl doesn’t read this sort of thing without her lipstick.”
Guided by a compact mirror, she powdered, painted every vestige of twelve-year-old out of her face. She shaped her lips with one tube, colored her cheeks from another. She penciled the rims of her eyes, blued the lids, sprinkled her neck with 4711, attached pearls to her ears, and donned her dark glasses. Thus armored, and after a displeased appraisal of her manicure’s shabby condition, she ripped open the letter and let her eyes race through it while her stony small smile grew smaller and harder.
Having seen the movie several times over the years, before ever reading Capote’s novella, it’s impossible to think about or review one without reference to the other. It’s a shame, because the book deserves to be judged on its own merit. I was mesmerized by the way Holly was written and her character revealed. Much like the movie, she commands all the attention and leaves everyone else cast in shadow. But they are very different people, the movie Holly and the book Holly. Both are damaged, but the book Holly is wholly unsympathetic. She is selfish, shallow, and mean-spirited. She takes everything, and gives nothing except what it pleases her to give. She is tough, the ultimate survivor. But she’s no sociopath. It pains her, sometimes, this selfishness and the knowledge of the misery she causes a few that she leaves behind. But not enough to stop her. I also had little sympathy for the people left in the wreckage, for they knew what she was and still loved her, still yearned after her.
Like the movie, the book is problematic for modern sensibilities. What I found bizarre was that the movie created this monstrous Asian caricature from an innocuous side character who barely registers in the book’s action, while sanitizing the book’s portrayal of African Americans and Holly’s overtly racist and homophobic remarks and attitudes. Holly Golightly and the author that created her both originated from the Jim Crow South, so I’m unsurprised by the book, but I guess by 1961 the wider US audience was sensitive to such treatment of black Americans but still delighted by a white man in yellow face.
Audiobook, purchased via Audible. While I wasn’t enamored with the voice Michael C Hall used for Holly, his performance was otherwise stellar. His pacing and inflection really highlighted Capote’s writing.