Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
18 March 2020updated 03 Aug 2021 1:13pm

Radio 3’s Literary Pursuits understands the magic of In Cold Blood

This thoughtful documentary looks at Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood with a real curiosity and a lovely melancholy.’ says the documentary. So true.

By Antonia Quirke

A young murderer sits for five years on death row. His friend, the writer Truman Capote, comes to visit, and notes that he waits “with the aura of an exiled animal, a creature walking wounded”. The sympathy and dread in that line – I love it. So utterly characteristic of Capote’s 1966 non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, about the senseless murder of a Kansas farmer and his family by two drifters in 1959. It’s a work with a structure so epic (a solid chain of exciting sections) and is altogether so incredibly good that one scarcely needs to make excessive claims for it. 

Although people do, endlessly, and in this thoughtful documentary (22 March, 6:45pm) some of those claims are aired, but with real curiosity and a lovely melancholy perfectly captured when the presenter Corin Throsby sighs, of Capote, “I listen to his voice and I feel like he is a friend of mine.” 

One of the (habitual) claims made for In Cold Blood in this programme is that, unusually, it makes the criminal “someone you have compassion for”. Hmm. I can only say – see Macbeth? Also, it’s argued that Capote was effectively ushering in a new kind of journalism: the great writer turning to non-fiction. But what of Chekhov’s 1891 investigation into the prison conditions on Siberia’s Sakhalin Island? 

As for Capote waiting an unprecedented length of time (more than five years) for his grim narrative to reach its ultimate conclusion? Take Kurt Vonnegut’s composition of Slaughterhouse-Five: 25 tough years. Anyway, my point is that such myths surround In Cold Blood in part because Capote himself did a fantastic sales job on it. But more, perhaps, because he was someone whose era and aura has retained a special glamour. 

He “captured a world for urbanites” says the documentary. So true. And not just the lonely world of rural Kansas, but his own ever-implied world. Here was a guy who pointedly projected the myth of the self-created man, in an addictive, Gatsbyesque, very American way. One of those gloriously made up people. Ah, the New Yorker of the 1950s! Such sophistication! Oh, to be as strange, and as talented as Truman Capote, as he stared, so sadly, into the abyss.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
THANK YOU

Literary Pursuits – Truman Capote: In Cold Blood
BBC Radio 3

Content from our partners
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs
Flooding is a major risk for our homes

This article appears in the 18 Mar 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The final reckoning