Thursday, April 18, 2013

Breakfast at Tiffany's [1958]


Agent provocateur Truman Capote’s greatest masterpiece was, without a shred of doubt, the seminal non-fiction novel In Cold Blood. But interestingly, the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s easily remains his most popular work, and was adapted number times in other media – Broadway, West End et al, and most notably the much loved 1961 movie starring Audrey Hepburn. Though not considered a “Great American Novel” in the same vein as, say, The Great Gatsby, it did magnificently provide the zeitgeist of the 1940s, with all its amorality, moral bankruptcy, lure of easy money and glamour, access to shady means, and the fragile social order. And Holly Golightly, the story’s vivacious heroine who lives in the moment with a devil-may-care attitude to developments around her and snubs her nose at anything to do with morality and prudishness, was a memorable personification of the era. Told almost completely in flashbacks, the story chronicles how the narrator, a wannabe young and impoverished writer named Fred living in a squalid Manhattan apartment, meets Holly, and eventually falls in love with her. She represents everything that he is not but subconsciously aspires to be, and this is what so profoundly attracts him towards her. She is, after all, the perfect elucidation of what conservatives qualify as “bad girl”. She is also the quintessential illustration of the American Dream – only that the dream is illusory at best. Born a poor girl, this natural born hustler aware of her good looks, becomes rich off men with loose cash, but Fred turns out to be her only friend when she is in desperate need of one. The crisp, dazzling and smoothly written book, filled to brim with wry humour, irreverence, wit and cynical observations on societal hypocrisies, is thus ultimately a book about gargantuan dreams and the associated heartbreaks, and of course, love and friendship in a lonely world. And in Holly we have one of the most colourful, exuberant yet quietly tragic characters.






Author: Truman Capote
Genre: Drama/Romance/Social Satire
Language: English
Country: US

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Great Gatsby [1925]


The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most renowned book and one of the most celebrated works in American literature (it was named by Modern Library as the second best English language novel of 20th century, behind only Joyce’s Ulysses), was an evocative tale of unrequited love, marital fidelity, friendship and lost youth. From its underlying thematic standpoint, it painted a damning picture of the mythical “American Dream”, and the perennial class war between the aristocrats and the Nouveau Riche.  And, not to forget, it also provided a memorable peek into the 1920s zeitgeist – a period popularly referred to as the “Jazz Age”. Narrated by the remarkably level-headed Nick Carraway, who, on account of not belonging to either of the two aforementioned social classes, could impartially dissect both. The former Yale grad, upon moving to New York, finds as his neighbour a young millionaire called Jay Gatsby, who loves throwing extravagant parties at his palatial home where everyone is invited and alcohol flows till dawn. Though Nick finds himself falling for a girl who wants to climb the social ladder, and also develops camaraderie with his enigmatic neighbour, the story, as it turned out, was about a tragic and turbulent love triangle between Gatsby, Daisy, Nick’s beautiful cousin Gatsby has been in love with for many years, and Tom Buchanan, a gruff wealthy man she is married to. Tonally, the narrative was presented in the form of three acts. The first act provided a cynical and darkly humorous look into shallowness and decadence through the lavish parties that Nick attends with bemused curiosity. It transitioned into a romantic melodrama with focus shifting to the love angle. And it finished on a deathly serious note when the story, and in turn the glorious American Dream, ends on a desolate and tragic note. Written in lucid English, the best part of this slender book was its wryly satirical part; it was tad undone by the melodramatic middle, but was again largely made up by the dark and lonely finale.






Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Genre: Drama/Romance/Social Satire
Language: English
Country: US