Mini classic review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and both their children. Truman Capote’s comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved. At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible yet entirely and frighteningly human. The book that made Capote’s name, In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative.

“It is no shame to have a dirty face – the shame comes when you keep it dirty.”

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote was an absolute chore to get through. I’m sure this is someone’s favourite non-fiction classic out there but it’s certainly not mine.

It sounds horrible to be so bored by a book that depicts the real-life murders of a family but unfortunately that’s how I felt. Capote’s writing was so arduous and exhausting. He takes pains to describe every little thought that every person involved either directly or indirectly with the crime has, and so the book just dragged on needlessly — which makes sense considering this was previously a series of articles for The New Yorker before transcribed into a non-fiction book.

Which brings me to my biggest issue with the book: it’s not factual at all. Capote based the book on years of interviews that were transcribed from memory without tape recorders or notes. No wonder large swaths of passages from this book made no sense to me and just felt like Capote trying to stir up a moral panic against different marginalisations.

This book tries so hard to delve into the question about why people commit crimes — is it nature or nurture? But we’re never given a satisfying answer as it is left entirely up to the reader to make up their mind. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but Capote doesn’t succeed in dissecting this important question at all — he only very occasionally remembers to bring it up.

All in all, this has to be one of the most pointless and boring non-fiction books I’ve ever read. If it hadn’t been for The Classics Club, I would have DNF’d it. In Cold Blood is so packed with over-information that’s completely irrelevant to the main story, and somehow managed to make a violent and horrific crime sound so dry and tedious.

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