Audiobook and e-book non-fiction reviews: Truman Capote and the Legacy of In Cold Blood, Lili, First Bite

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 February, 2016, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 February, 2016, 9:00pm

Truman Capote and the Legacy of In Cold Blood

by Ralph F. Voss

The University of Alabama Press (e-book)

Three stars

If Ralph Voss had to describe In Cold Blood, he would say it was “based on a true story”, not “the truth” or, as Truman Capote called it, a “non-fiction novel”, thus giving birth supposedly to a new genre. In his literary study of the bestselling 1966 book, which cemented Capote’s fame, Voss looks at the legacy of the book, about the murders of four members of a Kansas family by two killers, who were hanged for their crimes. Among the many angles he takes, most interesting is the discussion about fact and fiction (apparently, among other things, the apology uttered by one of the killers was made up), what constitutes a historical novel, roman-à-clef and true crime. Intriguing is Voss’ take on the “gay subtext”, which again challenges Capote’s claims about his work. Because homosexuality was then taboo, Voss writes, the writer skirted around the subject, including his closeness, literal or otherwise, to one of the killers and the two criminals’ probable gay relationship. The success of In Cold Blood owes much to Capote’s narrative skill but, as is underscored, the book continues to raise questions about “New Journalism”.

Lili

by Niels Hoyer and Lili Elbe

Canelo (e-book)

Three stars

If you’ve already seen Eddie Redmayne in his role as Lili in The Danish Girl, this book will fill in the gaps. Compiled by Niels Hoyer, it was written with the help of material dictated to him by Lili and from her diaries plus other writing, telling the story of how a Danish painter, “Andreas Sparre”, became the woman Lili Elbe – the first documented case of a sex-change operation. That it took place as far back as 1930 will shock many; the outcome, however, is perhaps less surprising. As a man, Andreas was married to a woman called Grete, herself a remarkable character in her strength and support. When her husband finds out by chance how comfortable he feels dressing as a woman, niggling questions start being asked, culminating in Andreas being convinced he is a hermaphrodite. It is Lili who is allowed to survive. Missing in the book are the gory bits, although castration is performed, as is the implantation of ovaries, allowing Lili to feel like a woman. But she wants more, after falling in love with a man, who proposes marriage. This is an extraordinary story that will provoke discussion.

First Bite

by Bee Wilson

Harper Collins (audiobook)

Three stars

If, by the time you read this, you are still abiding by your new year’s resolution to eat better, you might not need First Bite to change your diet. By British food writer Bee Wilson, the book is mostly about the fact food preferences are learned – so relearning is crucial if you are satiated only by unhealthy quantities of sugar and salt. But, says Wilson, “before you can change what you eat, you need to change what you like”. She stresses that all the foods we eat regularly are ones we learned to eat. Not even babies have a universal food: Tanzanian juniors from hunting tribes, receiving training on how food should taste, may be introduced to bone marrow from wild game. Weighing up the nature versus nurture argument, she finds support from everyone from neuroscientists to anthropologists to psychologists, whose studies look at the influence of culture, memory and gender. She stresses also that our influences are often indirect or vicarious (what we see on TV). One piece of advice by Wilson, whose writing is narrated by Karen Cass, is: be a food snob when shopping. Make healthy food and pleasurable food one and the same.