One From the Archive: Five Star Reads – Zoe Heller and Truman Capote

In January of this year, I was lucky enough to read some incredible books.  A lot of them, in fact, received at least four stars.  I thought that it would be a good idea to group two of the most standout books from the list together, and I wholeheartedly urge everyone to run to their local bookshop or library and pick up a novel by Zoe Heller or Truman Capote, particularly if you have never read either before.

Let us begin, then, with Zoe Heller’s incredible novel, Notes on a Scandal.  I was so excited to start reading Heller’s work, and as she had been on my ‘must read’ list of authors for several years already, I thought that I would purchase one of her novels.  I chose this one just because its title intrigued me, and because it was in stock on my favourite Abebooks retailer’s shop.  (NB: I do not have the pretty edition featured, but am instead the owner of rather a lovely orange Penguin Celebrations edition.)

The narrator of Notes on a Scandal, Barbara Covett, is a retired schoolteacher of history, who is living with and trying to protect her friend and previous colleague, pottery teacher Bathsheba Hart.  Sheba, as she is more commonly known, has been accused of ‘indecent assault of a minor’ after having an affair with one of her teenage pupils.  Barbara’s narrative voice is enticing, and it has been crafted so well.  She has been given a voice which could so easily belong to a real woman.  Its thought patterns are complex, and its tone is dry in some places and witty in others.

Throughout Notes on a Scandal, Heller raises a lot of moral questions.  She builds up her characters and scenes with an artist’s eye, and the pivotal twist is so clever, and so believable.  Heller is certainly one of the best author discoveries which I feel I have made in a while.  I would not hesitate to call her one of my favourite contemporary authors based solely upon this novel.

‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’ by Truman Capote

Secondly, let us discuss Truman Capote’s first novel, the wonderful Other Voices, Other Rooms.  I received this beautiful Penguin edition for Christmas, and was longing to begin it immediately.  I have absolutely adored all of Capote’s novels which I have read to date, from the delightfully quirky Breakfast at Tiffany’s to his glorious short stories.  I had such high hopes for this novel, particularly when I read its premise:

“… [it] is a story of hallucinatory power, wholly conjuring up the Gothic landscape of the Deep South and a boy’s first glimpse into a mysterious adult world.”

The Southern Gothic is one of my absolute favourite genres, and Capote has done wonders with it here.  He is a wonder at building places and characters; his beautiful descriptions make each one of his scenes so very vivid, and his characters seem to come to life immediately, quickly fleshing out into both recognisable and believable figures, who linger in the mind for a long while.  Idabel Thompkins, the ‘fiery redhead’ of the novel, is based upon Harper Lee, Truman Capote’s best childhood friend.  It goes without saying that Idabel was, of course, my favourite character.  Other Voices, Other Rooms is a gorgeously written, sumptuous and rich novel, and I found myself reading it very slowly in order to savour the beautiful prose and story.  Capote is an author who deserves a wide reading audience, and I would – and will – recommend this book to all.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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