Sunday, 7 December 2008
Bibliotherapy: What to read when you don’t want to go shopping.
Now that shopping is being prescribed as national duty – buy now, to save the nation from economic ruin! – I’m feeling mulishly reluctant to obey government orders. Instead, I’ve been re-reading ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, which is always a pleasure, but also serves as a reminder that shopping is not an end in itself.
If you’ve only ever seen the film adaptation starring the adorable Audrey Hepburn, then you might not realise quite how dark Truman Capote’s original novella is. There is no Hollywood happy ending, no romantic scenes at Tiffany’s, and though Miss Golightly is gloriously chic in “a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker”, she does not find solace in buying new clothes or jewels. In fact, her pleasure in Tiffany’s has nothing to do with shopping there – she doesn’t ‘give a hoot about jewellery’ – but as an antidote for what she describes as ‘the mean reds’. This is a form of anxiety as familiar now, to those of us who fear the abyss of an uncertain future, as it was when Capote published the novella, exactly 50 years ago: “You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen…”
Tiffany’s, says Holly, ‘calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it’, but she doesn’t actually buy anything there, but goes shoplifting at Woolworth’s instead for Halloween masks and balloons to put on her Christmas tree. I don’t recommend theft as a remedy for the mean reds, but given Holly’s iconic status, it’s worth remembering that she is unencumbered by material assets; indeed, when something really bad does happen, the death of her beloved brother, she destroys all her possessions, smashing her dark glasses and bottles of perfume.
Thus ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ is a manifesto for anti-shopping therapy, for travelling light and being free as a bird. Speaking of which, Holly does buy an birdcage for the narrator of the novella, who has fallen in love with her, but with one proviso: “Promise me you’ll never put a living thing in it.” Soon afterwards, she flies the roost, disappearing with very little luggage and no shopping bags at all.