81. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (1966)

Truman Capote had to be in the list somewhere, but when I started thinking which of his full-length works to pick I realised with mounting horror that he was going to come much lower than I expected. I love the shorter stuff like A Beautiful Child and A Christmas Memory – but as this is a list of novels I can’t really include them. So it was a toss-up between Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. I picked the latter because it’s just such a big, important American novel, even though it’s basically non-fiction. It’s got all the things I love about Capote – beautiful prose, an ear for voices and an eye for detail and that underlying caustic wit – but it’s also dealing with huge issues about crime and morality that were usually way outside TC’s range. The crime aspect of the novel is gripping, and the psychological journey of both Capote and the killers is amazingly profound. What I love most is that many other more serious, heavyweight, macho writers have tried to do what Capote did, and fallen dismally short. The tragedy of Capote’s life, of course, was that he never wrote another decent book, but what a glorious way to go. I highly recommend Gerald Clarke’s Capote: A Biography, one of my favourite lit biogs – even if it amounts to an extended ‘don’t do this’ list.

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