This is a curious book, chosen from a long list of novels for the study block ahead (why the University stopped calling them terms, puzzles me). I have been meaning to read Capote for a long while. More known for his non-fiction work, this little novel intrigued me.
The long list required careful consideration, as I wanted to opt for authors I hadn’t read before. I did a little research on each one, before coming to the three/four to hone in on. Other voices, other rooms is now recognised as based on Capote’s experience as a young boy, but at the time of its publication, he refuted this notion… and then later came to wonder why he’d reacted like this. It’s an extraordinary, if unsettling read.
Other Voices, Other Rooms tells the story of Joel Knox, a 13-year-old boy who is displaced when his mother dies, and his father calls him to move to rural Alabama to be with him. Knox travels across the country, to a rambling house, without seeing his father. His stepmother, Amy, is not particularly welcoming, but it is her, and her cousin, Rudolph that he spends time with. Rudolph is a drunk, and veers from entertaining to disturbing – and is central to the novel. Joel becomes a moth caught in his flame. Joel makes a friend in the housemaid, Zoo, but she has plans to leave when her ‘pappadaddy,’ dies, fleeing from a jailed-husband who slashed her throat. Joel also has a strange friendship with Florabel and Idabel, twins that live locally. Joel is muddled in his friendship with Idabel, the more feral twin, and tries to run away with her before the book’s climax, where Joel confronts his future-identity.
Other Voices, Other Rooms is full of stories told by odd people, in a kaleidoscope that whirls in the mind of this young boy. Capote captures the innocence of Joel, and the adult things he sees, but does not always understand. It is both brilliant and bizarre, with hallucinogenic scenes that entice and baffle. Capote’s writing is poetic, with strong images, drawn with specific detail. Despite this detail, there is still an overall intangible quality to the novel, which mirrors Joel’s own struggle. He is sifting through the stories, the places and the people to understand himself a little more.
Place is central to the working of the novel. Without it, the novel would have little to hang off, as the characters are not reliable, whole enough. Skully’s Landing,The Cloud Hotel, the Drowning Pond, the fair, Joel’s home. All provide something concrete that allows the narrative to float and soar before settling.
This is a truly curious book that has done nothing to dissuade me from reading more of Capote.