I imagine that a great many people have seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s and enjoyed it as an iconic Audrey Hepburn movie, but have never read the book. To misquote Roald Dahl (from his retelling of Cinderella): I guess you think you know this story. You don’t. The real one’s much more… sincere.
The book, a novella of about 100 pages, tells a compact, sensitive and compelling tale. It’s far more touching, genuine and believable than the celluloid version. It’s not about a couple of gigolos, nor is it about neighbours falling in love. Indeed, the book details only two relationships with real depth of feeling – one between a quick, bright girl and her slow, lumbering brother, and another, acknowledged too late, between the girl and a cat with no name.
The girl is Holly Golightly, a young lady of beauty, charm and constrained circumstances. She has an independent spirit and a unique way of looking at the world. She’s flighty, flippant and a huge flirt, but she also has strong (though quirky) moral convictions, and she remains true to them. In the words of her would-be Hollywood agent, ‘she isn’t a phoney because she’s a real phoney. She believes all this crap she believes.’
Her story is told by a neighbour, a young man who lives in the apartment above. He’s intrigued by Holly long before he meets her – he hears her coming and going at odd hours, catches occasional glimpses of her in glamorous settings around town, and keeps tabs on the esoteric contents of her trash can. When they eventually meet and strike up a tentative friendship, he finds her outrageous, disconcerting and lovely.
Holly’s story is not so different from Cinderella’s. Admittedly there’s no fairy godmother – Holly alone has dragged herself out of the dust and despair of her Hicksville past, and reinvented herself as a magnet for New York’s most eligible bachelors. She’s without any ties in the world, with the exception of her brother Fred, and is entirely self-reliant.
With youth and beauty, and oodles of charm and guile, she’s leaping up the social ladder in search of happiness (and a nice big house with a spare room for Fred). Finding a wealthy husband is the only respectable option open to her, but she’s not the least bit mercenary. Instead, she’s an odd blend of naivety and wiliness. And she’s not nearly as morally compromised as her neighbours suspect. She’s looking for someone to commit to – and she’s quite adept at staying at arm’s length while sifting through the options. She sincerely believes she can learn to love just about anyone, so long as they’re rich.
Holly is a girl of big dreams, and she has the determination and the guts to make them happen. She’s inherently loveable, despite her flaws, and a lot less shallow than she means to be. She’s courageous, clever and unconventional. She’s not exactly an icon for feminism, but her lust for life is inspirational.