Edith Wharton aside, my New York reading really has been incredibly bleak so far (as a counterpoint to my holiday – I’m having a wonderful time). This week, therefore, I’ve decided to go for intellectual middle-class angst over poverty-ridden misery. Both of these books are short (perfect for reading in Central Park) and any emptiness or ennui they present is actually rather comforting when read after ‘Miss Lonelyhearts‘ and ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn‘!
It’s a shame that this novella is best known because of the film, when the book is better in every respect – and also not hideously racist. I want to get this out of the way early because I saw the film for this first time on this holiday and I was disgusted with the unwatchable presentation of Mr Yunioshi … moving on.
Capote’s Holly Golightly is fascinating but ephemeral. In the first pages of the book we hear about her as a sculpure, an address label, an almost Goddess and an obsession amongst the men she meets, before we hear her actual voice ‘welling up from the bottom of the stairs … silly-young and self-amused. “Oh darling, I am sorry. I lost the goddam key.”‘ It’s a stunning introduction of a charming, feckless, superficially happy but ultimately lost heroine.
While Holly has a back story, some of which is shared, and Capote hints of future adventures, the novella remains tightly focussed on her brief New York career. Mixing happily with soldiers and millionaires, equally comfortable at Tiffany’s and in Sing Sing, Holly embodies what is transient and seductive about the big city. She is the Sally Bowles of New York, equally fragile, but much more optimistic. A top New York read.
‘Franny’ and ‘Zooey’ are a short story and novella that can be read either independently (as they were first published) or as a disjoined whole (as their inclusion in a single volume seems to suggest). Both contain the character of ‘Franny’ a clever, pretty and wealthy college student who appears to have it all yet is faced with despair at the state of the world. So far, she’s managed to fit in better than Salinger’s most famous adolescent, Holden Caulfield from ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, but things are starting to slip.
The first short story describes the start of a breakdown. The Franny here is pretty and all-American, a source of pride for her equally sucessful and conventional boyfriend. In the second story Franny (or a different Franny) is suffering in the bosom of her family. Force-fed chicken soup by her mother, Franny’s confusion is shown as it impacts on her brother, Zooey. These siblings are the youngest members of the Glass family, a media sensation and well-known collection of celebrity child prodigies. Seemingly left alone by their vaudeville parents, Franny and Zooey were educated by their equally precocious elder brothers. The syllabus developed was heavy on ethics and mystical religions and both of the recipients suffer from the conflict between their public selves and the complex ideologies they partially understand. Like Holden, they see phoniness around them but, unlike him, they know what it is to belong and be loved. It’s all very self indulgent (their speech is filled with italics and ‘goddam’s) and I found it a perfect contrast to the physical misery of my earlier NY reading. Long live the guilt-ridden Manhatten intellectual!