Rating - 4: worth reading more than once (buy it)
Audrey Hepburn was far better than Holly Golightly deserved.
Holly is informally an escort, paying her rent with the $50 "powder room change" her dates provide. She loves to talk and hates to answer questions about herself. She is drifting, glamorously, gloriously, desperately. She is running, sometimes from things, sometimes to others, sometimes just to run.
The plot is inessential. It is convenient, to move mirrors around Holly, but the characters and events are just there to show her off from various angles. The book is more successful in this than the film, which lets the plot get in the way during the second half.
Instead we have a character study in 100 pages. It is a novella that delivers value quickly and consistently. It will support re-reading well because it spends little time on exposition, plot, or anything else you might skim past on a re-read under the rubric of "I already know this." A similarly dense action movie would have an explosion every minute or two.
Actually, the plot is not bad. There are a few events that spur action, a few threads uniting the story across brief episodes in Holly's life. The story is almost entirely character-driven, however, so the events feel like a natural growth from them rather than something the author imposes on them.
Our narrator is a nameless cypher. I have seen him described as an author avatar. I did not pick up a gay vibe on my first read-through; is that a better explanation for Holly's casual nudity in his presence, or just that she gets naked in front of male audiences frequently and considers him harmless? At any rate, he is happy just to bask in her presence and recount it for us.
Holly is an interesting mess. She wants attention, preferably all of it, but definitely on her terms. She wants to tell you things but does not want you to ask about them. She lies casually and may believe any number of her own lies; she becomes a sort of unreliable narrator for the narrator. She is caring, cruel, and callous. She is whimsical. She is cunning but not necessarily bright.
If you noticed that our narrator is not the film's dashing gigolo, you should also pick up that Holly's heart has at best streaks of gold. She is a user and a schemer, happy to hurt for her immediate gain, momentary amusement, or to spite another. She really would be happy if it worked out well for everyone, I'm sure, but she is looking out for number one first.
If only she knew what she wanted. She wants love and a home and happiness. She has no idea how to get them, or why, or how to recognize them, or how to feel safe once she does have them. Holly is a tragic character because she is not a dynamic one. She cannot grow as a person. She is stuck, her head barely above water, making waves so that no passing wave can come along and drown her.
She is a variable character, though not dynamic. She flits. She flirts. She obsesses and moves on. She has repeatedly found her savior and run away (or driven him off).
Some of this is maintained in the film version of the character, although it sweetens her considerably. The film version would never curse or talk about shacking up with a lesbian so she could have a wife to do housework. The film version is still a gold digger but not a strip miner. Book-Holly is goes beyond thoughtless or self-centered.
On that film note, how ridiculous was that ending? Besides making "Fred" a mirror of her first john in what was intended as a romantic scene, you know what happens within a week or a month of the film's ending because you saw it a half-dozen ways within the film. The book does not bother, stays truer to the character, and tells you the ending up front so that you can be content to enjoy the scenery along the way.
Holly is, however, enormously charismatic and apparently fun to be around. It is fun to see her through our narrator's prism. She is a great character, darker and more nuanced than the film version, highly enjoyable in her fits and starts.
My edition came with three short stories. Worthwhile. I feel certain that I have read "A Christmas Memory" before; perhaps it is part of a standard English textbook these days.