There are some books you pick up and your preconceptions of it are confirmed; nothing changes and you are disappointed, but you read on safely and unscathed. There are some authors who have towering reputations that baffle the average and not-so-average reader. I have lately discovered that In Cold Blood is not one of those books, and Truman Capote is not one of those authors.
I held off reading this book for a few days while I was alone in my flat, as the back cover blurb said “Blood and hair all over the walls…” and I didn’t feel strong enough to undertake it without someone to fall asleep next to. The flat we were living in was creepy at the best of times. So, full of anticipation and fear I started it, and finished it in a few days because I was so engrossed. Utterly gripping, from start to finish, which is no mean feat for such a dense prose style, and a true story too. Capote makes this into such good fiction, it would be fascinating to have seen him at work, putting the pieces together, constructing a narrative just as the police had to.
Obviously the murder is horrific, the ghastly and heart-breaking centrepiece of the novel, but the characters of the two perpetrators are what pulls the story along and keep you hooked right until the end. Callousness, ignorance, psychosis, fearlessness, stupidity, and pig-headed self-righteousness are just a few adjectives that spring to mind when thinking about Dick and Perry, the murderers and main characters. Why then the fascination? Why the compelling nature of the story? It’s a combination, I think, of superb craftsmanship and simple human curiousity. You want to know what happens; if they get away with it or not; if they show any remorse; if there’s any revelation about their motivation – which, it turns out, is ambiguous in the extreme. I suppose this is classic crime-writing stuff, but the difference here is that Capote wrote this in 1965 and it hasn’t lost any of its power to shock, and that this is a true story makes one think more about the process, more about the ‘facts’ being related; the reader is forced to maintain a distance, to keep a wary critical eye on proceedings.
I’m not normally one for this kind of thing, as you may have gathered from the fact that I had to wait until there was another person in the house before I could start reading it. I don’t like or understand gore and horror for their own sake alone. However, I enjoyed this immensely: Capote is someone I want to read more of. What next? I think perhaps Music For Chameleons, because it’s a great title..
AN ADDITION: I recently watched the film Capote (I hadn’t wanted to watch it before I had read In Cold Blood) and it confirmed some of my suspicions about Capote’s involvement with the ‘facts’ of the case. The invisible hand of Capote directing and influencing proceedings is, indeed, everywhere – in his relationship with Perry, in his meddling with the judicial process, for the sake of his art. The film is an astonishing portrait of a deadly serious artist on the brink of a breakdown, producing the work that would shape (even define) the rest of his life – something one cannot know from the book, except perhaps obliquely, through it’s sheer brilliance.