Friday, May 23, 2008

'Other Voices, Other Rooms'

by Truman Capote
Fiction, 1948
Penguin UK, trade pb, 175 p.
After the death of his mother, thirteen-year-old Joel Knox is summoned to live with a father he has never met in a vast decaying mansion in rural Alabama, its baroque splendour now faded and tarnished. But when he arrives, his father is nowhere to be seen and Joel is greeted instead by his prim, sullen new stepmother Miss Amy and his debauched Cousin Randolph – living like spirits in the fragile decadence of a house full of secrets.
Truman Capote’s first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms is a story of hallucinatory power, vividly conjuring up the Gothic landscape of the Deep South and a boy’s first glimpse into a mysterious adult world.
The Southern Gothic atmosphere of this book was fabulous, with the old large plantation house and grounds crumbling and fallen into disrepair and the eccentric characters. I quite enjoyed the beginning, when Joel first comes to Skully's Landing and meets the various inhabitants, but by the end of the book I wondered what the point of it all was. (I have since read an explanation of the ending which sheds some light, but still). It was mentioned a few times in the story itself about Joel not following, or understanding Cousin Randolph’s ramblings, and I have to say I was often with Joel on that. It almost seemed that Capote was at times trying to be too clever with his prose, to the detriment of the story which ended up a bit choppy in places. This was his first novel, so I can only assume that his writing improved in his later works. The only other book of his I’ve read is In Cold Blood.

Last weekend we watched the movie, Capote, and I wish I’d watched it before I read either book. The movie gave me a little better idea of Capote, the man and author, and certainly would’ve added to my reading of In Cold Blood. I knew very generally about the effect Capote and the murderers, especially Perry, had on each other but the movie illustrated it very well. Other Voices, Other Rooms was even briefly mentioned in the movie. And it’s been quite a few years since I read To Kill a Mockingbird, but seeing Harper Lee portrayed in the movie has made me want to read it again. As for Capote, while this book didn’t leave any real lasting impression, I’d consider trying something else by him someday, just probably not right away.

I did love this quote though:
[L]ate afternoon when I woke up rain was at the window and on the roof: a kind of silence, if I may say, was walking through the house, and, like most silence, it was not silent at all: it rapped on the doors, echoed in the clocks, creaked on the stairs, leaned forward to peer into my face and explode.
My Rating: 2.5/5
(#19 for 2008, My Year of Reading Dangerously #5)

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  1. I may give this one a try. If just for the Southern Gothic atmosphere. Thanks for the review!

  2. Capote was a fantastic movie. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is one of those rare actors that could pull off a role like that. He was amazing!

  3. Teddy Rose- It did have a great atmosphere and you may like the story better than I did.

    Stephanie- He really did a great job portraying Capote. Even my husband, who didn't know anything about Capote or the murders, enjoyed the movie.


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