After the excitement of considering revamping the Penguin Projects, it seems only fitting that I should continue to move on through the various collections I have; and after the disappointment of my first foray into Japanese Literature Month, I thought I would return to the Penguin Moderns to try to ensure a good read – which these two certainly delivered!

Penguin Modern 34 – The Duke in his Domain by Truman Capote

Capote is an author with whom I’m fairly familiar (and who probably needs no introduction); I read “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood” back in the day, and loved and admired both. In particular, I find his journalism compelling, so I was particularly keen on reading this short work: a profile of the young Marlon Brando, marooned in a Kyoto hotel whilst filming “Sayonara”. First published in 1957 in the New Yorker, the piece makes absorbing reading.

As Capote reveals, he had first run into Brando in the actor’s early years appearing on stage in “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Then, Brando had been at the start of his career; here, he’s at the top of his game, a box office certainty, and in many ways an enigma. Whether attempting to write his own screenplays, studying the various philosophy books strewn around his room or juggling his entourage, Brando remains basically unknowable, completely enigmatic. Capote observes and records, as the perfect journalist would do, and really captures the time and place and the mystique.

What struck me, too, as I read this Modern, was the strong impression I got from it of Japan; a stronger impression, I have to say, than I got from “The Housekeeper and The Professor”…. Which I suppose tells you much about the quality of Capote’s writing. An excellent entry in the Penguin Moderns collection and a nudge to me to read more of Capote’s non-fiction!

Penguin Modern 36 – Leaving the Yellow House by Saul Bellow

The next Modern is an author I know of but have never read – Saul Bellow. A Canadian-American author who won all manner of literary prizes (including the Nobel), I guess maybe “Herzog” is his best known work. First published in Esquire in 1958, and in book form a decade later, “Leaving the Yellow House” is an evocative and beautifully written story of a woman and a house and the West.

The main character is an older woman called Hattie, who lives on her own in the Yellow House near a desert town by Sego Desert Lake. Hattie is a hard-drinking character with a past; and a car accident and injury forces her to attempt to face up not only to what’s happened in her life so far, but also whether she has any future. Her only friends are a few local neighbours, some of whom will help and some who will take advantage; and as the story progresses we explore Hattie’s past with the various men in her life, her complex relationship with her friend India, and her drinking. That latter element has become the most important part of her life (in fact, certain flashbacks hint it might always have been), and I ended the story wondering what would eventually become of Hattie.

“Leaving the Yellow House” is a title with a double meaning as you’ll see if you read this story; and I do recommend it highly. It’s beautifully written, very evocative and captures the area in which Hattie lives vividly. Bellow obviously deserved all the awards he received, and this was a brilliant introduction to his writing.

*****

So once again, a pair of great Penguin Moderns featuring two titans of American writing.  Re-encountering Capote was a real joy, and discovering Bellow a revelation. And that’s basically what I’m hoping to get out of these little books – renewal of acquaintances or an introduction to new writing. Perfect!  ;D