Today I wish to wax lyrical about Truman Capote. To be very honest, most every day I am capable of speaking at some length about Truman Capote. I’ve just returned from a screening of The Innocents at the QFT. The Innocents is an incredible, disturbing and stunningly shot adaptation of the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw. Capote was partially responsible for developing the screen play and as I attempt to write my first ever ghost into the novel I’m currently working on I was particularly inspired by the psychological manipulation and subtlety with which Capote, (and of course, by implication, Henry James), uses to build up a picture of an incredibly sophisticated and deeply sinister haunting. Absolute genius. If you get a chance please go and see The Innocents at the QFT at some stage this week. (They also have really great peppermint hot chocolate on the go at the minute).
Truman Capote’s life and work has fascinated me since our very first meeting. There are few authors, (Raymond Carver perhaps, Graham Greene and John Updike), whom I fell in lifelong love with from the very first paragraph. Capote is at the top of this list. This week as a wonderful housewarming gift my good friends Holly and Andy Eaton were kind enough to give me this beautiful early edition of Capote’s In Cold Blood, which is undoubtedly among my all time favourite, books, (possibly my favourite).
In Cold Blood cannot be read lightly. It is an almost flawless piece of creative non-fiction, comparable to the cold, precision of Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day in its leanness and utter lack of sentimentality. If you know anything about Capote’s biography, (and I suggest that those who don’t pick up a copy quick sharp), you’ll know that the writing of In Cold Blood was far from an atypical author/best seller experience. Many have criticised Capote’s part in the manipulation of the horrific circumstances at the centre of In Cold Blood and have argued that the book destroyed Capote, robbing him of his humanity and ultimately instigating the catastrophic spiral which would bring both his writing career and, ultimately, his life to a premature end. These critics are probably correct. However, every time I read In Cold Blood I am freshly enthralled by Capote’s cold, intoxicating perfection. I am both disturbed and enraptured. I dream of writing a book as complete and devastating as In Cold Blood and yet I am terrified of what this might cost. I find myself wondering if truly great pieces of writing, literature which plunges into the dark heart of humanity and holds nothing sacred, prose which feels too honest to have been coerced into print, isn’t, after all, worth such a great sacrifice. If you’ve never read this book before you simply must though I suggest having a nice piece of pleasant fluff, poised on your bookshelf ready to cleanse your literary palate afterwards.
If you are wishing to begin a long-term love affair with Truman can I recommend Other Voices, Other Rooms as a springboard? It will serve you better as an introduction than Breakfast at Tiffany’s and give you some insight into the flawed and flamboyant genius at the core of Capote’s work.