Home > 1950, 20th Century, American Literature, Book Club, Capote Truman, Classics, Made into a film, Novella, Short Stories, Translations > No French toast from me to Breakfast at Tiffany’s

No French toast from me to Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote. 1958. French title: Petit déjeuner chez Tiffany.

Our Book Club picked two books for May, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. I’ve finished Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a collection composed of a novella and three short stories.

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • House of Flowers
  • A Diamond Guitar
  • A Christmas Memory.

Capote_Tiffany_françaisBreakfast at Tiffany’s is the novella and most famous story of the collection. We’re in 1943, in New York and “Fred” is our narrator. He lives in the East Seventies and Holly Golightly is one of the tenants in the same brownstone. She names him Fred after her beloved brother and we will not know his real name. Fred is an aspiring writer and he’s soon fascinated by Holly. She’s 18 or 19 and she’s a free mind. She smokes, drinks and has a liberated sex life. She doesn’t work but wants to live the good life; breakfast at Tiffany’s is her dream. Her life is made of men, partying and strange visits to prison. Fred is her friend and nothing more and he loves to gravitate around her colourful friends and live vicariously through her. That’s for an overview of the plot.

I didn’t like this novella very much. Part of it is due to the poor French translation I read and I’ve already discussed it in My recent bad luck with translations. But more importantly, I was disappointed. I haven’t seen the film and didn’t know anything about the plot but the cover of the book is misleading. They look more like James Bond and one of his girls than like a poor lost girl playing socialite and befriending a pathetic aspiring writer, don’t they? To be honest, I’m a bit fed up with men fawning on eccentric women and women playing the eccentric to have men at their feet. Holly is a fake and the men around her totally buy it. They have no spine and behave like love-sick puppies. Even years after her disappearance from their life, the narrator and his barman friend Joe Bell still think about her and would run to the other side of the world if they could locate her. Of course, Holly is pretty, that’s a prerequisite since only pretty women can afford her brand of behaviour. Capote attempts to give Holly a bit of substance with her unusual past. He tries to instil fragility in her character but I still found her vapid. She’s partying, flirting and surviving on men while Fred plays the gentleman and in a way slips into the role of the older brother that his adopted name designated for him. In a nutshell, the characters seemed a bit too clichéd for my taste.

I liked the three short-stories a lot more and the translation was not as flawed as the one of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s the same translator though. Perhaps by the time I reached the short stories I had gained a virtual armour against translation hazards. The three stories are very different from one another. House of Flowers is located in Haiti and relates the fate of a prostitute who leaves her brothel to get married. A Diamond Guitar is about Mr Schaeffer who’s serving a life-sentence in a prison-farm. He has found his routine in prison and it is disturbed by the arrival of a fellow prisoner from Cuba, Tico Feo. He has a guitar and Mr Schaeffer is drawn to his personality. What consequences will it have? In A Christmas Memory, a man describes his last Christmas with an older relative. He was seven, she was over sixty and they were friends. They always baked specific cakes for Christmas together and he remembers the process of this special baking day. These three stories were original in their themes and their characters and the last one was really lovely.

That said, I’m far from enraptured by this book and I’m now joining Ernest Hemingway in Paris with A Moveable Feast. I hope it will turn out in a reading feast.

  1. May 24, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    I know that the film is popular but I never liked it. hated what Holly G did with her cat. Does that happen in the book too?

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  2. May 24, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    Don’t know what happened to my comment.. Looks as though it was scalped, so I’ll repeat it. I didn’t like the film because of what Holly does with her cat. Does that happen in the book too?

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    • May 24, 2014 at 10:49 pm

      If she abandons her cat in the film, then yes.

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  3. May 25, 2014 at 7:07 am

    Yes that’s the scene. Ruined the film for me.

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  4. May 25, 2014 at 8:15 am

    Sorry to know that you didn’t like the book, Emma. I haven’t read it but was hoping to read it someday. Now I don’t think I will 🙂 The cover does look like a scene from an old Bond movie 🙂 Have you seen the French movie ‘Hors de Prix’? (The title was translated into English as ‘Priceless’) It is supposed to be based on the movie version of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. I liked this movie when I watched it. If you do get to watch this movie, I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

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    • May 25, 2014 at 9:24 pm

      Yes I’ve seen the film Hors de prix and I liked it (I love Gad Elmaleh, he’s a great humorist, even if it doesn’t show in that film.) I don’t see where it’s based upon Breakfast at Tiffany’s, though.

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      • May 27, 2014 at 10:11 am

        I read somewhere that the director of ‘Hors de prix’ said that the movie was inspired by the movie version of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. From what you have said though, it looks like ‘Hors de prix’ is a much, much better movie than ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ 🙂 Nice to know about Gad Elmaleh. I didn’t know that he was a humorist. Would love to watch one of his movies which has more humour in it. Which one of his movies is your favourite?

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        • May 27, 2014 at 9:41 pm

          I like Gad Elmaleh’s one man show La vie normale. It’s extremely funny. He’s got a hilarious sktech about English classes in France and he obviously had the same text book as me: we kept repeating sentences like “Where’s Brian? He’s in the kitchen” and he makes fun of it. And there’s another one about flute lessons at school that is SO true. We have these terrible music classes where pupils and students play together with plastic flutes that devastate your ears with their screeching sound.

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  5. May 25, 2014 at 8:56 am

    I wasn’t able to get all the fuss about Breakfast at Tiffany’s. When I saw the movie, I kept waiting for this original twist, this anything that would lift it up. So she wants to have her breakfast, let her have it: that’s how empty it all felt to me. I think its Audrey Hepburn who makes the charm of the movie but the story itself felt bland to me. Years later, when I saw the movie Capote and read a couple of articles about him, I became biased against him and I doubt I will read anything of his work.

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    • May 25, 2014 at 9:32 pm

      I don’t understand why it’s so famous either. Sure, Audrey Hepburn is lovely but the story lacks substance.
      Perhaps it was shocking at the time it was published. Sometimes it’s difficult to grasp the impact of a book at the time it was published. Holly is quite liberated.

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  6. Catherine
    May 25, 2014 at 9:07 am

    Didn’t like the book either and I read it in original language. Really didn’t do it for me. Started to watch the movie but never finished it either. The short stories, I didn’t read the either as I was too disappointed by breakfast at Tiffany and was eager to close the book…c’est dommage!

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    • May 25, 2014 at 9:25 pm

      OK, so I’m not alone in this one. The translation is bad, sure, but I didn’t like the story. I expected something a lot better than that, since it’s so famous.

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      • Catherine
        May 26, 2014 at 3:40 pm

        Yeah I know, I felt the same. But having said that, I feel the same for a few classics and sometimes I wonder if it’s not me seeing the “genius” of the book or just that we can’t all agree on the classics…

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        • May 27, 2014 at 9:31 pm

          Don’t tell me, I can’t stand Wuthering Heights. (now, I’ve said it!)

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          • Catherine
            May 28, 2014 at 11:13 am

            haha no, I quite enjoyed this one although the brother/sister love is not the one I have in my family (thank god!), I was more thinking about books like Lolita or the great gatsby…

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  7. May 26, 2014 at 2:32 am

    If you’re reading “A Moveable Feast” do read also Enrique Vila-Matas’ “Never any end to Paris”, a wry homage to Hemingway and AMF

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    • May 26, 2014 at 6:52 am

      Hi, thanks for the recommendation.

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      • May 26, 2014 at 1:26 pm

        A book that gives and gives again for anyone interested in writing.

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        • May 27, 2014 at 9:30 pm

          Thanks, I’ll definitely check it out.

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  8. May 26, 2014 at 3:23 am

    I understand that Capote is a “good writer,” but I’ve never been interested in this title (the book or the movie) or in the writer in general for some reason. I might read In Cold Blood some day, though. And I love the singer Holly Golightly! That cover on the Folio translation is atrocious, though. What kind of reader are they trying to appeal to with that?!?

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    • May 26, 2014 at 6:55 am

      They picked a cover from the movie. If you think the cover is atrocious, imagine the translation.
      So another reader not attracted to Breakfasr at Tiffany’s.

      Come on, Breakfast at Tiffany’s lovers, tell us why it’s supposed to be a great book!!

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      • May 27, 2014 at 12:27 am

        LOL–I couldn’t tell if that was Audrey Hepburn or just somebody dressed up to look like her (should have enlarged the image before leaving my comment)! Whatever, both actors look like caricatures, cartoonish. Bah…

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        • May 27, 2014 at 9:34 pm

          They look cartoonish but at least they look funny. I have a thing for funny books (or décalés as we say in French.) That makes me buy books like Le tri sélectif des ordures et autres cons by Sébastien Gendron which I hope fits that bill.

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      • May 27, 2014 at 10:16 am

        I remember once one of my book club members raving on and on about ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘In Cold Blood’. I can’t remember now what she said though. Looking forward to hearing what a ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ lover has to say about the book / movie.

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        • May 27, 2014 at 9:42 pm

          Still no fan of Breakfast at Tiffany’s passing by Book Around the Corner. Glad to know you met some. They seem an endangered species, from the comments I got here. 🙂

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  9. May 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    I’ve no memory of the movie but always meant to read the book. I was so sure it would be great . . . Not sure I’d get over the cat scene though. It’s short so I’ll read it eventually. I’m quite curious now.

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    • May 27, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      And I’m curious to read your thoughts about it. (I’m looking forward to my bookclub meeting to hear the others’ response to it)

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  10. June 8, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    I love the movie, and I’ve read this and liked the story it was based on, but the odd thing is that while the story is similar (not identical though) in each the tone is very different. The film is a romantic comedy, the book quite flatly isn’t. That’s captured in the scene with the cat. In the film they find the cat again. In the book they don’t.

    The cover actually illustrates the difference. In the book she’s a fairly damaged teenager who’s basically surviving by sleeping with men for money. She’s extremely close to a prostitute, though she has enough choice in who she goes with to put her just on the party girl side of that line. Fred is in much the same boat. They’re both desperately poor. What makes her unusual isn’t so much her looks as her will, her sheer determination to make her dreams flesh. The film rather loses that, partly by making everyone involved older and partly by making it all so glamorous.

    The translation can’t have helped.

    Oddly, although I know I read the other stories I can’t say I recall them. Without the film I wonder if this work would now be largely forgotten. I suspect it would be.

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    • June 9, 2014 at 11:08 am

      I’m glad to hear about someone who liked both the film and the novella.

      I agree with you, there’s nothing glamorous in the book. She’s a lost teenager selling herself to survive. It would have been better if Fred hadn’t been the clichéd struggling writer and if there wasn’t that irritating cliché of men falling for phony eccentricity.

      Perhaps you’re right, this book would be forgotten without the film.

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