Friday, 1 July 2011

Handcarved Coffins

I recently read a fascinating interview with Marlon Brando from the New Yorker written by Truman Capote. Highly impressed by this piece of work I realised that I'd never read any of Capote's books, despite having seen the films of Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood and enjoyed the Philip Seymour Hoffman biopic (I'd also like to see Infamous, which is highly rated -you wait years for a Truman Capote biopic and two come along at once).

While I've never studied the 'craft' of writing (obviously, you may say) I think I can recognise a great piece of writing when I read it; fortunately someone more qualified in this department has explained some of the reasons why the Brando interview is so good. On the train into London last night I finished Music for Chameleons, the centrepiece of which is 'Handcarved Coffins: a non-fiction account of an American crime' - another terrific read, beautifully constructed, but clearly containing many fictional elements and unlikely coincidences. Just how non-fictional it really is can be found here - Capote was branded a hoaxer as a result. There have been a spate of 'non-fiction' works found to be mostly fiction in recent years - Dan Brown's claims that The Da Vinci Code was based on fact always annoyed me.

Another book I reread this year was Fiesta/The Sun also Rises by Ernest Hemingway - I was perfectly prepared to think it was going to be disappointing, having been very impressed with it as a young man at university. In fact, this time I thought it was even better than I remembered, very vividly written and evocative of the parts of France and Spain in which much of the book is set. What a pity his later work fell off dramatically - Across the River and into the Trees I found especially poor. If, as a drinking game, you tried to keep up with the amount of alcohol consumed in the course of that book you would be dead well before it ends.

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