Other Voices, Other Rooms (Penguin Modern Classics)

by Truman Capote (Autor)

Paperback, 2004



Call number



Penguin Classics (2004), Edition: New e., 192 pages


Truman Capote's first novel is a story of almost supernatural intensity and inventiveness, an audacious foray into the mind of a sensitive boy as he seeks out the grown-up enigmas of love and death in the ghostly landscape of the deep South. At the age of twelve, Joel Knox is summoned to meet the father who abandoned him at birth. But when Joel arrives at the decaying mansion in Skully's Landing, his father is nowhere in sight. What he finds instead is a sullen stepmother who delights in killing birds; an uncle with the face--and heart--of a debauched child; and a fearsome little girl named Idabel who may offer him the closest thing he has ever known to love.

User reviews

LibraryThing member george.d.ross
How can I describe it? It's like waking from fevered dreams to find yourself in a bathtub filled with molasses and blood, and flies crawling in and out of your eyes, your nose, the corners of your mouth. It is unpleasant.
LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
Oh, Truman - what happened to you?

This book is beautifully written, tells a beautiful, bittersweet story, and is a painful read when you think of what its author became. I'm not sure how he made it from the young man that wrote this amazing and beautiful book to the caricatured flaming
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celebrity-worshiping queen of his later years. In this, his first book, the depth of his talent is enormous and apparent and I finished it thinking of how sad it all makes me.

Wonderful Southern gothic characters in this one - the transvestite uncle, the evil stepmother, the quadriplegic father and the circumstances of his injury, the wonderfully realized Jesus Fever and his daughter, Zoo, and Idabel who is Scout/Harper Lee by any other name. All the yearnings of adolescence trapped in that crumbling old house down at The Landing.

The book is steeped in loneliness throughout and in the search for and sacredness of love in all its myriad forms. In the end, the narrator is as liberated as the adults around him are trapped.
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LibraryThing member CarlaR
This book is Truman's first published and it feels like it. That's not to say that the book was bad in any way, it just didn't feel fine-tuned like his others. The imagery was wonderful, but the characters seem underdeveloped (which seems funny since this is supposed to be semi-autobiographical.
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The main character Joel, who was abandoned by his father at birth, is sent back to live with his father when his mother dies. In the house of his father are some very quirky relatives. If you can imagine a coming-of-age book being set in the deep south then you pretty much have an idea of how this book goes. I am glad I read it, but prefer his other books.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Truman Capote’s first novel is gothic and mysterious. Thirteen year old Joel Knox (I couldn’t help making the connection between Joel’s last name and the saying: ‘The school of hard knocks.’) is sent to live with a father he has never met, deep in the south and among bizarre people. Joel
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travels alone, arriving in the town of Noon City where he is eventually retrieved by an elderly black man named Jesus Fever. Together they travel the gloomy, dark night road behind the stubborn mule John Brown, until they reach Skully’s Landing - the home of Joel’s father.

The first half of the novel introduces most of the main characters - from Idabel (the strange little girl who dresses like a boy) to Amy (Joel’s stepmother who likes to kill birds) to cousin Randolph (the effeminate relative with a dark history) to the likable Zoo (the black servant with an angry red scar slashed across her throat). Joel does not meet his father immediately, and when he does it is a shocking discovery. This part of the story engaged me with its gothic images, ghostly sightings and vivid dialogue. Capote’s description of Skully’s Landing was sharp and creepy.

But as the book passes the midway point, it begins to waver and become nearly impossible to comprehend. The characters warp into strange and frightening people. Cousin Randolph spends a lot of time telling Joel stories that seem to have layers and layers of meaning. A lesbian midget shows signs of being a pedophile. A long night, involving a cottonmouth snake and a carnival ride, ends with an unexplained illness. And I began to wonder whether Capote was dropping acid while he wrote. The imagery is circular, dreamlike and unconnected to the story line.

I like gothic novels with creepy story lines and suspense. Other Voices Other Rooms had the potential, with Capote’s gift of stringing words together, to be a breathtaking work…but it fell short for me. It was too convoluted and confusing. Reviews and analysis I have read about the novel suggest it is a story about coming of age - but, it is a rough ride…and seemed to be more of a look through the pages of an abnormal psychology text.

I had a hard time rating this one. Capote’s prose is sometimes beautiful - he is an exacting writer - yet the plot was too weird for my liking. I don’t know many (if any) readers to whom I could recommend this one.
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LibraryThing member presto
Following the death of his mother, thirteen year old Joel Knox travels to Alabama to live with his estranged father in a large, remote and decaying house where also live his step mother and cousin Randolph. He has never meet his father, and it seems upon arrival that he is not likely to meet him
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soon either, but that is just one of the many mysteries that will trouble young Joel, who is fast beginning to think is move South is at best a disaster, and at worst a betrayal.

But he finds friends in the form of a neighbour the rough and ready young tomboy Idabel, in Zoo the black help, and a black hermit who works charms. But he is also drawn to homosexual cousin Randolph; and his somewhat girlish good looks enamour him to most of those he meets.

Other Voices, Other Rooms is a beautiful story, as much from the way it is told as its content, rich in remarkable and imaginative metaphors that create a steamy atmosphere of the hot South; subtle in its depiction of the coming Joel's awareness of homosexuality; and full of insight - it is a most moving and captivating read, all the more remarkable considering the young age of its author, his first book.

This Penguin Classics 2004 edition contains an interesting introduction by John Berendt which adds much to our understanding of the novel, not least of which is its autobiographical content.
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LibraryThing member LarryDarrell
Capote's first novel. The story of a boy (Joel Knox) who moves from New Orleans to a lonely and decayed southern estate to finally meet his father. He finds a mystery at his new home, and a cast of haunted characters.

The book is largely about gender and sexuality. His uncle sometimes dresses as a
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society woman, his best friend wishes she were a boy, and Joel himself wrestles with his nascent (homo)sexuality.

Not as engaging as some of Capote's other stuff, but still a telling book by an amazing writer.
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LibraryThing member Othemts
Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) begins with a pre-teen boy arriving to move in with the father he never knew, hoping to avoid going to military school. In a sense it's the same premise as Ricky Schroeder's 1980's sitcom Silver Spoons. Unfortunately for Joel, the young protagonist
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of this novel, he does not find his father to be an affable man-child who drives a train around his mansion. In fact, Joel does not find his father at all until more than halfway through the novel, Mr. Samson being mysteriously hidden at his own home at Skully's Landing.

Instead, Joel becomes acquainted with the eccentric cast of Southern Gothic figures who live on and around Skully's Landing. There's his grouchy step-mother Amy, odd-ball cousin Randolph, a maid named Zoo Fever who helps Joel settle in but dreams of running away, and the tomboy Idabel who becomes Joel's only friend. Unable to escape from Skully's Landing, Joel escapes further into his mind (the "other room") as the only way to keep above the nuttiness around him. When he finally meets his father, well lets just say it's not very pleasant either and they don't end up playing Pac-Man together.

There's not so much of a plot in this novel, just more of vignettes of Joel's daily life as he sinks more into the morass of Skully's Landing. Capote's prose is beautiful, if just plain weird and full of the grotesque. It's kind of reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird in tone but lacking the hope and wonder of that novel. Here the discoveries that come with growing older are not edifying but demoralizing.
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LibraryThing member chris227
Interesting but a little hard to follow. It is the story of a child searching for belonging and finding himself in a household full of strange happenings and even stranger people. Truman Capote holds the reader's attention but at times the story just seems a convoluted twist of events that don't
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quite make sense, but then maybe that it what it is supposed to be!
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LibraryThing member Ardwick
Slow but enjoyable book about a chidl that looses his mother and goes to stay with his father only to find that his new family is dysfunctional. His father is bed bound and barely communicates and his uncle is disinhibited and grasping. His father has remarried an odd woman and his only friends are
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a tomboy and the eccentric black housekeeper.
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LibraryThing member knittingfreak
This book is semi-autobiographical. Capote wrote this novel when he was very young -- around 22 (I think), and it has all the characteristics of good Southern Lit. According to Maggie, it passes the true test -- "the dead mule." I'm also using this one for her Southern Reading Challenge. The story
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begins with 13-year old Joel Knox trying to deal with the loss of his mother. He's been living with his aunt since his mother's death, but his estranged father has now summoned him to come live with him in New Orleans. Joel is excited to meet his father, but things certainly don't turn out the way he envisions them. If you're not familiar with Southern Lit., happy endings can be rare.

After a long journey in which Joel has to catch a ride with a stranger and then make his way to Skully's Landing on the back of a wagon in the middle of the night, he's disappointed when his father isn't there to meet him. Instead, he meets his stepmother, Amy and Zoo Fever, the family's servant. In fact, it will be quite a long while before he meets his father. Everyone ignores his questions about his father. The only evidence that there is anyone else in the house is a 'knocking' sound and a red tennis ball that occasionally bounces down the stairs.

Everyone in the story is damaged in some way -- physically, mentally or emotionally. Zoo bears a long scar across her neck, but it's not this physical scar that torments her. Instead, it's the emotional one that accompanies it. She is crippled by fear of what may happen to her. Other characters that are out of the ordinary include, a midget with an apparent tendency towards pedophilia, a recluse with special healing powers, a tomboy (Joel's only friend) with an anger management problem, and the flamboyant Cousin Randolph who is eating and drinking himself to death as he pines over his one true love.

I enjoyed this story a great deal. I think this is a wonderful first novel that showcases a talent that was truly extraordinary. I'm glad I read this one.
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LibraryThing member BinnieBee
This was interesting to read, mainly because I had read Capote's biography.
LibraryThing member Edith1
I liked it a lot, mostly because of the style, not so much for the strange story. (Boy is sent to his father's house after his mother dies. It turns out his father is dying too, and everyone else is crazy.)
LibraryThing member Erikayumi
The intriguing characters stand out most in this Beautifully written coming of age tale set in the south. I recommend you take your time with it- read it slowly.
LibraryThing member Sean191
My first foray into Capote's works gave me some understanding as to why people have theorized he was the true author of To Kill a Mockingbird. There's a similar feel, there's a similar setting, there's a similar style. But, the authors also grew up in a similar setting, so I could understand the
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For Capote's work, it's a beautiful piece even though it has decay as its theme. There's mental, emotional and spiritual decay all introduced and advancing throughout the story. There's also physical decay of not just the characters, but the setting. With the exception of Mr. Samson, every character loses a bit of themselves during the course of the story (Samson's loss is recounted as a recounting of a past event).

Yet, to reiterate, Capote's language is so poetic and haunting, it really is a beautiful piece and I can easily understand why there was so much excitement preceding the publication of his first novel.
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LibraryThing member paperhouses
Divine, divine, divine! You can wallow in this book.
LibraryThing member jennyo
Continuing my Capote binge, I decided I'd read his first novel. Can't remember if I read this one lots of years ago or not. If I did, I probably didn't understand it all; I was pretty naive. It's a heartbreaking story though. And, from what I understand, very much autobiographical. In the interview
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book I just read, Capote said that different parts of his personality inhabit all of these characters. I'm assuming he means except for Idabel who's obviously Harper Lee.

My favorite quote from the book:

p. 147 The brain may take advice, but not the heart, and love, having no geography, knows no boundaries: weight and sink it deep, no matter, it will rise and find the surface: and why not? any love is natural and beautiful that lies within a person's nature; only hypocrites would hold a man responsible for what he loves, emotional illiterates and those of righteous envy, who, in their agitated concern, mistake so frequently the arrow pointing to heaven for the one that leads to hell.
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LibraryThing member jawalter
Half-way through this book, I loved it. By the time I'd finished it, I wasn't nearly as enchanted. I'm not sure if that says more about me or more about the book, but there it is. In truth, I don't really know what to say about Capote's novel. It's well-written and engaging, but it doesn't seem to
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go anywhere. After establishing a weird world populated by memorable characters, the book doesn't seem to want to do anything with them. Maybe that's the point, as stagnation seems to be the novel's predominant theme, but as a reading experience, it's far from satisfying.

On a mostly unrelated (and thoroughly unpleasant) note, this is the second book in a row that has ended with a rape.
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LibraryThing member technodiabla
This book is very very Southern, vague, Faulkneresque, and inaccessible. But I really liked it. The South's dark weirdness that can exist without even being questioned is brilliantly captured. My husband and I disagree about the meaning of the ending, but I won't spoil it. I found it horrific,
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while my husband found it hopeful. So you'll have to decide for youself. I recommend this book, but take your time and re-read when you're lost or you will miss things that are critical to the plot.
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
I wanted to like this book. I tried to understand it and get through the writing which at times was so heavy I felt as though I was living in the deep south with Capote's characters -- sweltering, steamy, humid, heavy and mind numbing.

This is filled with southern Gothic themes of a raggedy
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plantation, a crazy step mother, an Uncle that is more than bizarre, conversations that float and go no where, snakes, tom boys, dusty antiques, rambling back water roads and, of course black help who are rendered spiritualistic and much to my chagrin, are portrayed derogatorily.

This is his first novel and it starts with the theme that runs through all Capote's books, a person disenfranchised and unloved, searching for love in all the wrong places, longing to belong.

When twelve year old Joel receives a communication from a father he never knew, calling him home, he follows. Abandoned at birth, now that his mother dies, the child has no other option.

When he arrives in the deep south, he does not meet his father. Instead, he finds a crazy step mother and a host of others who are just too eccentric to be real. And, that is my quarrel with the book. The writing is much too composed for a twelve year old.

Capote gives too much intelligence to Joel. While there are beautiful phrases and vivid images, overall the characters were over developed, and in the end, nothing happened.

The reader is left with a is that all there is feeling of disappointment.

No stars for this one!
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
Capote spent two years writing this novel. and it was published in 1948--his first published novel. Wikipedia has an article on the book, which will tell you more about it than I can remember, especially since I did no post-reading note on the book, although when on my way home from boot camp I
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read The Grass Harp, which I did not think much of, I said Iwanted to read this book--but it took me nearly ten years to get arounf to reading it!
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LibraryThing member BurlingtonReader
In my opinion I think Truman Capote is over-rated. A forgettable book.
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Quasi-autobiographical story of a boy growing up and struggling with abandonment issues. Capote oozes angst and searches for acceptance.
LibraryThing member LARA335
When his mother dies, 13 year old Joel travels alone to live with his unknown father, and finds an isolated mansion in rural Alabama,

The writing is poetic and has a hallucinatory, dream-like feel as he gets to know the kimono-wearing Randolph who owns the property, and befriends the tomboy Idabel
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(based on his childhood friend Harper Lee).

Arresting, cinematic southern gothic elements, from the ancient mule-driver Jesus's coffin falling upside down into the grave; Zoo the cook's arbitrary gang- rape as she tries to start a new life; John Brown, the old mule, careering over the banister at the decaying Cloud hotel.

A hazy, powerful rumination on love, experience, regret, memories, time lost, the need to connect with another. As Randolph says, all we want is to be held and for someone to tell us that everything will be alright.
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LibraryThing member stef7sa
A dark tale, full of symbolic meaning, densely written like a poem with characters that will remain with you for a long time. Slow reading!
LibraryThing member Unkletom
For starters, My thanks to the folks at the On the Southern Literary Trail group for giving me the opportunity to read and discuss this and many other fine books.

This is Truman Capote’s first novel and it shows, for reasons both good and bad. On the good side, it shows that, even at the tender
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age of 23, Capote could didn’t need anywhere near a thousand words to paint a picture. With just half a paragraph he could pluck you out of your easy chair and plop you down beside a dusty country road leading to nowhere. It is easy to see the places that he is describing.

It is also easy to see that much of what he is writing is, if not autobiographical, at least about himself. Readers can, with the clarity of hindsight, sense that many parts of the story were written by a young man struggling to come to terms with an identity that many are reluctant to accept even today. Also evident was his portrayal of the pain and uncertainty of a boy who spent his life being shuttled from one guardian to another. Those familiar with To Kill a Mockingbird might recall the character of Dill who lived just such a life and, like Joel, was prone to telling imaginative tales about his life. For those who don’t know, Harper Lee based the character of Dill on her lifelong friend, Truman capote.

Unfortunately, Capote’s inexperience shows when it comes to the overall story line. While he is incredible at presenting vignettes, in the long run the story bogs down in a surreal mire that cannot decide between southern gothic or decadent drollery. In either case, it isn’t somewhere that you want a plot to stay it.

Bottom line: I’ve read every Capote story ever published and devoured In Cold Blood twice which is fortunate because I have faith in his ability to write. If I didn’t, this might be the first and last Capote novel I ever read. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t read it or that I don’t recommend it. I’m just saying that you should not judge Truman Capote’s career solely on this book. You would be doing a disservice to both him and yourself.
FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements:
*5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
*4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is.
*3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or memorable.
*2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending.
*1 Star – The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.
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Original publication date


Physical description

7.8 inches


0141187654 / 9780141187655
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