An exceptionally well-read and very sensible, down-to-earth friend, who is also a Quaker, told me several years ago that if there was a single book in her life she wished she could un-read it would be In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. We were actually standing in the library and I was sufficiently disturbed on her behalf to make a mental note to self not to read it either...she had been genuinely distressed by it,
Sufficiently emphatic was she, that whenever I see the book I have a bit of a shudder and something has always stopped me from finding all this out for myself. I had enough trouble after recommending Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner to someone who came back to me declaring that she hated it, found it every disturbing and wished she could un-read it that minute. That's quite a powerful statement to make about a book and I felt terrible for recommending it, but neither could I see the problem with the book. As I recall it was a really good read for me.
So listening to Wuthering Heights on his car stereo in order to fill in a Bronte lacuna,
' one of my deepest most shaming pools of ignorance',
David Robinson sets off to drive west across Kansas towards Garden City in search of one of his literary heroes, Truman Capote, and the lingering shadows of one of his favourite books, In Cold Blood.
I had my customary little shudder at the mention of the title and read on...but can this be so
'...the last one I ever read to my son as a bedtime story.'
Admittedly his son was by this time fourteen (and I love the idea of reading aloud to teenagers) and David Robinson proceeds to set out his stall and debate this book with me very cleverly as he explores the nuances of the narrative. Closely observed detail, like the way the killers are swept past the crowd on the courthouse steps with no description of them whatsoever,
'He's smuggled them past our moral attentiveness: he doesn't want us to judge them just yet.'
Then there are the brief background details about Truman Capote's life and work, the friendship since childhood with Harper Lee, the full-length fur coat and feather boa and the high-pitched voice that led many to assume he was a 'rather strange-looking woman.'
How exactly did Truman Capote persuade Marlon Brando to tell all in an interview?
I'm not sure whether Marlon succumbed to the boa, but apparently Capote's very clever use of conversation drew out details of his life that Brandon, who rarely gave interviews, had always been reluctant to disclose.
And I'm thinking how strange, because if I'd met David Robinson instead of my friend at the library that day I'd have been rushing off to the C shelf (rural Devon, therefore shelf singular) and hoping to find In Cold Blood waiting for me.
I'm starting to be even more convinced that I should give it a go when I learn that David Robinson and I are kindred spirits on the subject of literary tourism, we love it.
'If you see what an author saw - above all if you meet the people an author met - the decades between you and the writer's work can shrink away. You can see, from looking at what remains, what might have been there'
Then I turn to the Paris Review Interviews, and there it is in Volume One, an interview with Truman Capote
'...Writing has laws of perspectives, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself. Even Joyce, our most extreme disregarder, was a superb craftsman, he could write Ulysses because he could write Dubliners. Too many writers seem to consider the writing of short stories as a kind of finger exercise. Well in such cases it is only their fingers they are exercising.'
Truman's been reading dovegreyreader this week, I'm warming to him and I'm almost convinced, but it all leaves me wondering, do you have books you wish you had never read and should I read In Cold Blood?