Our Big Summer Readathon: ‘The Grass Harp’ by Truman Capote *****

The Grass Harp, one of Truman Capote’s novellas, was first published in 1951, and uses a limited first person narrative perspective throughout.  The narrator of the piece, eleven-year-old Collin Fenwick, is an orphan; both of his parents lay beneath a ‘hill of barewhite slabs and brown burnt flowers’.  The novella takes its name from one of the most vivid and beautiful quotes in the story: ‘Below the hill grows a field of high Indian grass which changes color with the seasons; go see it in the fall, late September, when it has gone red as sunset, when scarlet shadows like firelight breeze over it and the autumn winds strum on its dry leaves sighing human music, a harp of voices’.

Following the death of his father, Collin is sent to live with two of his father’s cousins, kindly Dolly and formidable Verena.  Dolly takes him under her wing from the first, telling him all about the natural magic which surrounds his new home.  She focuses particularly on the ‘harp of voices’ below the graveyard: ‘Do you hear? that is the grass harp, always telling a story – it knows the story of all the people on the hill, of all who ever lived, and when we are dead it will tell ours, too.’  When Dolly falls out with her sister, she takes Collin and her best friend Catherine to live in what they believe to be their secret treehouse.  They are soon joined by feared and revered local teen, Riley, and the widowed Judge Cool.

As I mentioned yesterday in the first of my Capote short story reviews, the focus upon different types of relationships between the characters is one of the real strengths of the novella, and has been wrought with such precision.  The way in which he details how his characters act with one another, and the small kindnesses which they perform, has been thought out with such care.  I am always struck by how well Capote knows his characters, and how they are able to spring to life before the very eyes of the reader in consequence.  As in the short stories too, the imagery which Capote creates is gorgeous, particularly when it relates to the protagonists: ‘The snowflake of Dolly’s face’, and a voice ‘crinkling as tissue paper’.

The Grass Harp is a stunning novella, which throws up surprises at each and every turn.  Even the minor characters who people the town dance to life upon the page, giving the whole an incredibly vivid feel.  Capote has crafted yet another wonderful piece of fiction within its pages, and not a single word has been wasted.

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Our Big Summer Readathon: Truman Capote

Summers are perfect for reading great swathes of books, and what could be better than focusing upon a writer whom everyone has heard of, but whom nobody really seems to read?  I am sure that a lot of you will be familiar with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, but have you read any of Truman Capote’s short stories before?  Are you familiar with his other novella, The Grass Harp?  Do you know what his recently discovered novel, Summer Crossing, is about?

Whether you answered no to any of the above questions, or if you squealed a ‘yes’ and are excited about what may be coming next, we would love you to join us with our Big Summer Readathon.  Lizzi from theselittlewords and I have decided to read through a lot of American author Truman Capote’s work over the next two months, and will be scheduling posts with our reviews on the last two days of both July and August.  Both of us are using the fabulous A Capote Reader as our starting point, and shall be reading Summer Crossing as an accompanying volume (the review for this will be posted in mid-August).

Our Big Summer Readathon schedule is as follows:

Novella – The Grass Harp
Short stories – ‘Miriam’, ‘My Side of the Matter’, ‘A Tree of Night’, ‘Jug of Silver’, ‘The Headless Hawk’, ‘Shut a Final Door’

Novella – Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Short stories – ‘Master Misery’, ‘Children on Their Birthdays’, ‘A Diamond Guitar’, ‘House of Flowers’, ‘Among the Paths to Eden’, ‘Mojave’
Novel – Summer Crossing


If you would like any more information about our readathon, please visit Lizzi’s wonderful introductory post.  If you are planning to join us, please do let us know!  Our aim is to get as many people to read Capote’s fabulous work as we can, and we would love to hear if you want to get involved with our project.