“Miss Highsmith is a crime novelist whose books one can reread many times. There are wery few of whom one can say that. She is a writer who has created a world of her own – a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger…” (Graham Greene, ‘Introduction’ to THE SNAIL-WATCHER, 1970).
CRUISING THE PAST LOOKS AT THE NEW BIOGRAPHY
“THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH” BY JOAN SCHENKAR.
PATRICIA HIGHSMITH WAS A GREAT NOVELIST WHO FEATURED TRAINS AND SHIPS IN HER NOVELS AND WAS OPENLY GAY AT A TIME WHEN THAT WAS VERBOTEN.
A brief review of the new Highsmith biography by Joan Schenkarz:
Author and playwright Joan Schenkar (Truly Wilde) presents a compelling portrait of suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith (1921–1995), whose own life was often as twisted as that of her antihero Tom Ripley. Dispensing with the traditional chronological narrative, Schenkar divides her study into themed sections, which crisscross and mirror each other, embodying the themes of doubling and alter egos in Highsmith’s work and life. From her early years in Texas through her time soaking up Manhattan’s literary life in the ’40s to her self-exile in Europe, Highsmith kept diaries in which she meticulously detailed everything from her myriad female lovers to plot ideas. Pessimistic, alcoholic and chronically unhappy, Highsmith created some of the most chilling tales of psychological suspense and betrayal, including The Talented Mr. Ripley and its sequels, and Strangers on a Train. Schenkar’s research is impeccable, and she makes excellent use of the voluminous Highsmith archives in Switzerland and interviews with Highsmith’s friends, ex-lovers and literary contemporaries. “Perversion,” Highsmith once said, “interests me most and is my guiding darkness,” and Schenkar illuminates how her demons played out on the page and in real life.
Highsmith’s novels were filled with references to trains and ships. In STRANGERS ON A TRAIN the antagonist met the protagonist on a train. In THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY Tom Ripley sailed on one of the Cunard Liners – the RMS QUEEN MARY or RMS QUEEN ELIZABETH to Europe so he could do murder.
(Left) Farley Granger and Robert Walker in Hitchcock’s film based on Highsmith’s novel. The two men have luncheon in Walker’s compartment – the result was to be caught up in murder. (Right) THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY – In Highsmith’s novel Tom Ripley sailed from New York to Europe aboard Cunard Line’s liner the RMS QUEEN MARY. Ripley hosted a farewell party in the novel but this was not included in both film adaptations.
WHO WAS PATRICIA HIGHSMITH?
Patricia Highsmith (January 19, 1921 – February 4, 1995) was an American novelist and short-story writer most widely known for her psychological thrillers, which have led to more than two dozen film adaptations.
Her first novel, Strangers on a Train has been adapted for the screen three times, notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951.
Although she wrote specifically in the genre of crime fiction, her books have been lauded by various writers and critics as being artistic and thoughtful enough to rival mainstream literature. Michael
Dirda observed that “Europeans honored her as a psychological novelist, part of an existentialist tradition represented by her own favorite writers, in particular Dostoevsky, Conrad, Kafka, Gide, and Camus.”
INTERVIEWS WITH MS HIGHSMITH:
The monumental American author Patricia Highsmith talks about the first story she ever wrote, her childhood fear of death and Tom Ripley. Ripley was her terrific character as a “rather civilized person who only kills when he has to.” Interview by Melvyn Bragg in 1982, interwoven with a dramatization of a Ripley story.