Sadly this left me as cold as Capote’s betrayal. 3/5 stars.
Thank you to Random House UK and NetGalley for giving me an e-copy of this book.
They told him everything.
He told everyone else.
Over countless martini-soaked Manhattan lunches, they shared their deepest secrets and greatest fears. On exclusive yachts sailing the Mediterranean, on private jets streaming towards Jamaica, on Yucatán beaches in secluded bays, they gossiped about sex, power, money, love and fame. They never imagined he would betray them so absolutely.
In the autumn of 1975, after two decades of intimate friendships, Truman Capote detonated a literary grenade, forever rupturing the elite circle he’d worked so hard to infiltrate. Why did he do it, knowing what he stood to lose? Was it to punish them? To make them pay for their manners, money and celebrated names? Or did he simply refuse to believe that they could ever stop loving him? Whatever the motive, one thing remains indisputable: nine years after achieving wild success with In Cold Blood, Capote committed an act of professional and social suicide with his most lethal of weapons . . . Words.
Swan Song should have been fascinating. I knew Truman Capote rubbed shoulders with the upper crust but I had no idea of the extent of his connections. He was intimate friends with New York royalty, spending years holidaying and enjoying boozy lunches with them. This book gives an insiders’ view of the lives of the very rich members of US and, to a lesser extent, European society in the 60s and 70s, and then details the fall-out when Truman screwed them over by publishing their most shocking secrets as thinly-veiled fiction.
The research behind this book is very thorough. This comes across in how distinct the different voices of the “Swans” are and how well various historical “figures” are brought to life. This is particularly the case when the women are shown in conversation with Truman, whose personality dominates the story.
With such a promising cast and stunning betrayal at its centre, I had hoped for waves of entertaining drama. Unfortunately I was bored and had to keep forcing myself to return to the book. For while the characters may be moneyed, glamorous, connected to apparently every famous person on the planet, lounging about in beautiful locations in gorgeous clothes and having many affairs, their lives came across as dreary and I didn’t care about any of them. I did wonder if this was partly the point and the author was trying to alert the reader to the emptiness of her subjects’ lives and the tragic waste of their potential… but surely there would have been a way to do this that was also entertaining?!
I found the many narrative time-shifts disorientating. I appreciate the author was trying to achieve an almost kaleidoscopic effect in places, giving us several versions of Truman’s stories to demonstrate the various way he would often tell a “true” story to suit the audience or his purposes, but the persistent time-hopping became jarring. Large parts of the book are narrated by an omniscient “we” which is supposedly an amalgamation of all the “swans'” voices, and while I can see what the author was going for with this, I just found it something else that held me at arm’s length from the characters and their personal stories.
Perhaps readers with a particular interest in Capote and/or US high society of the period will find this a more enjoyable book.
Overall: I feel this was a sadly wasted opportunity. In here somewhere is a brilliant book which I hope other readers are able to appreciate!
Claire Huston / Art and Soul