This was my first book by Truman Capote, if I planned to read any of his books, it’d be ‘In Cold Blood’ but when Other Voices, Other Rooms was chosen as this month’s book for one of the many book clubs I read along with, I thought I’d give it ago. Interestingly, this book didn’t really work for me but I was so interested in the Introduction to this novel, written by John Berendt.
From the back cover:
After the death of his mother, thirteen-year-old Joel Knox is summoned to live with a father he has never met in a vast decaying mansion in rural Alabama, its baroque slender now faded and tarnished. But when he arrives, his father is nowhere to be seen and Joel is greeted by his prim, sullen new stepmother Miss Amy and his debauched Cousin Randolph – living like spirits in the fragile decadence of a house full of secrets.
Other Voices, Other Rooms is a coming-of-age novel but I felt there was no real plot or point; I struggled to understand what was happening for half the novel. I’d finally feel I got to grips with it and understood what was happening, only to turn the page and feel lost all over again. I feel like this novel was meant to be a profound piece of literature but it felt a bit like Capote tried too hard, tried to be too poetic and mysterious and totally lost me, as a reader, along the way.
My favourite parts of this novel were Joel Knox’s interactions with Idabel, mainly because Idabel was such an interesting character – in a world were ladies are supposed to be ‘proper’, she was a tomboy that wanted to run free.
Now this is where real life gets more interesting than fiction; after finishing this novel, I was thoroughly confused so I decided to read the Introduction, written by John Berendt, hoping it’d shed some light on the novel. I found out that Capote and Harper Lee, the very Harper Lee who wrote ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, were childhood friends. Capote based the character of Idabel on Harper Lee [which probably explains why I liked her character], in return she based one of her characters in ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ on him.
Throughout this read, I took a particular disliking to Joel’s stepmother, Miss Amy, mainly because she said things like:
“Just a hotbed of crazy nigger-notions, that girl.”
“Her mouth worked in a furious way. ‘Niggers! Angela Lee warned me time again, said never trust a nigger: their minds and hair are full of kinks in equal measure.’”
I just didn’t care for the language; this novel was first published in 1948 so I completely understand language is used in this text that wouldn’t necessary be used today but Miss Amy was just so vulgar in her speech at times, always thinking she’s better than everybody else. As I read the Introduction, it turned out Miss Amy was based on one of Capote’s relatives.
The plot thickens…. Capote always denied this book was somewhat autobiographical, despite himself sharing so many similarities with Joel, for example, they were both born in New Orleans and longed for their fathers, they were both sent South to live with relatives, both took their mother’s surnames. Later Capote said he was not aware, except for a few descriptions, that he had made the book so autobiographical.
Berendt in the Introduction, also mentions that for Capote’s career his real life would go on to interest people more than his written works. So, while this book didn’t hold my interest because I wasn’t sure what was happening half the time, I certainly found its comparison to Capote’s real life interesting.