Book Review: Swan Song

by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

“A boy pampered and indulged well into middle age, courtesy of his unquestioned genius.”

Swan Song CoverThe iconic American author, Truman Capote is remembered best for penning such literary classics as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood – the latter often held to be a watershed in popular culture. He had a flair for self publicity and, throughout the 1960s, was often photographed hobnobbing with the rich and famous in fashionable nightspots. Even as his writing career declined in the following decade, he maintained his celebrity by impishly declaring his brilliance on TV chat shows.

Nobody ever doubted Capote was a gifted and original writer, but he was many other things besides, such as a charming raconteur with a knack for befriending wealthy couples. The glamorous wives in particular, whom he liked to call his Swans, often confided in him, revealing their most intimate secrets. Less easily discernible was the other side to his nature; the bitter, insecure child from Monroeville, Alabama, who believed his mother never loved him. He concealed this skilfully behind an exuberant gush of risqué anecdotes and witty conversation, rising from errand boy at The New Yorker in 1943 to internationally acclaimed novelist, short story writer and dramatist by the late 1950s.

Truman could best be epitomized by the four Cs (those who knew him most intimately would likely add a fifth): camp, catty, course and clever. Though his cleverness notoriously deserted him when he imprudently and very publicly besmirched the reputations of those he had come to rely on so completely as sources of inspiration, influence and adoration. His greatest mistake was betraying their trust by publishing in Esquire two episodes from his uncompleted novel, Answered Prayers, in which many old friends were revealed in all their grotesque prodigality, barely disguised with fictitious names.

Swan Song is a deft, dazzling, diligently researched creation, in which the lives of various members of elite, powerful, old-moneyed families, such as the Roosevelts, Kennedys, Bouviers and Churchills, are verbally dissected over Martini-drenched lunches. Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott spent ten years researching this novel, which was named winner of the 2015 Bridport Prize Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel, in addition to being shortlisted for the 2015 Myriad Editions First Drafts Competition and the 2015/16 Historical Novel Society New Novel Award. I hope we won’t have to wait so long for her next book.

Many, I am sure, will be captivated by Greenberg-Jephcott’s brilliantly told story, but sadly I struggled to finish it because I simply couldn’t connect with the self-obsessed characters on any level. I found it all but impossible to summon compassion for such a malicious circle of pampered airheads, whose every preposterous, greedy whim was assuaged without scruple, however amusingly or vulnerably presented. They were the Manhattan elite, in their element muckraking over ‘friend’s’ intimate relationships. Truman was in many ways a monster, but he was encouraged in his monstrousness by those who eventually turned on him for publicly exposing their sordid, shallow lives.

Capote died of acute liver failure following a drug overdose at the age of 59 in 1984. He was never forgiven.

Many thanks to Cornerstone for providing an advance review copy of this title.

 

“How dare the little beast.”



Categories:Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, LGBTQ, Literary Fiction

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

27 replies

  1. What a review- you don’t pull your punches! I suppose Capote may have been forgiven by one set of people- his readers. I read ‘In Cold Blood’ in Leuven and I couldn’t leave it alone. Good luck with your literary travels.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very refreshing to read an honest review, Paula. Sounds like something I would avoid like the plague. Self-indulgent, self-obsessed characters (real or imagined) are about as boring to me as characters who are propelled through the plot in an alcoholic haze to give the writer an excuse for portraying them in bad situations.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. That wouldn’t sit too well with me, I’d feel like they needed a good talking to 😉 We are in Autumn now so a few sniffles and snuffles are emerging but blogging on regardless. How’s Dewithon19 going?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I had been toying with the idea of reading this one but you’ve made up my mind for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this very interesting and well written review and bio of authour.
    It is fascinating what is hidden under the surface and yet the same person
    can produce such best sellers.
    Turning on those who trusted you and gave the material seems a rather cheap way.
    Easy way to write a book with so many secrets in store.
    Miriam

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Miriam. Capote seemed to be in the literary doldrums in the early ’70s and started mining his own life in more depth for salacious details. I don’t think he thought through the consequences of his actions until it was too late, and he fully expected to be forgiven. You’re right, of course, about turning on friends, but they were almost as bad themselves in their own ways. ‘A right shower’, as my old Nan would have said!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I like what your Nan said, really funny.
    I guess the friends were never friends, just people he hung out with.
    He is not the only one who doesn’t think the consequences through.😊
    miriam

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve a feeling this is going to go down brilliantly with my bookshop customers, but that I won’t regret skipping it…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I expect it will be popular with your patrons, Elle. After all, I chose to read it for its subject matter – I just didn’t expect to dislike the characters quite so much. But who knows, they may well thinks it’s marvellous? That wouldn’t surprise me at all.

      Like

  8. Interesting review. Thanks for reading it so I don’t have to 😉 I think Capote was a true child of his times, spoiled and arrogant and brilliant at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Capote has always fascinated me. I’ve always shied away from reading his work or reading about him – perhaps for the very reasons you offer us in regard to this book, Paula. That said, I read ‘A Christmas Memory’ last December and was captivated by his eloquence and by the glimpse into a childhood which was not privileged at all by many standards.

    While I was reading your review I was growing increasingly excited at the prospect of reading the novel. And then….. 😖! I think, when the time is right, I shall read more by Capote and about Capote – but possibly not through this novel.

    Another thought-provoking review: thanks, Paula 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I apologise, Sandra. I certainly hope I haven’t spoiled the Capote reading experience for you in any way. You’re right, he dragged himself out of poverty and a very difficult start in life (with next to no encouragement from his family) with only his talent and intelligence to do so. Swan Song was quite sympathetic towards his rich and powerful friends, but I couldn’t empathise with them at all. The actions of Truman, on the other hand, were at least understandable. He could be a naughty boy (and he was always a ‘boy’ to those who knew him), but he had been emotionally damaged from an early age and was in many ways vulnerable. However, nobody can take away from his considerable literary achievements. I will always admire the best of his work.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh my goodness, Paula, there’s no need for an apology in the slightest! Quite the reverse. You have added to my currently limited understanding of the man and his life in a very positive way 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh good, I’m relieved not to have put you off reading Capote’s work. I found myself so irritated by the over-indulged Manhattan set that I wonder now if I went too far with some of my comments. Sadly, the book was extremely well written and I really should have enjoyed it far more than I did! 🤗

        Like

  10. Great contrary reviews like yours always make me want to try to book for myself – but having spotted that it’s 480 pages long, I shall pass!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, as I said, Annabel, I can’t fault the quality of writing or the depth of research. The author depicted these people accurately, as far as I can tell. I simply didn’t like them. I keep expecting someone to pop up and disagree with my verdict, but no sign so far! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I hate when the characters in a book total rankle me the wrong way–then it becomes a test whether or not the book does the job. I have a feeling, however, from your description that i’d feel much the same way as yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

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