Sunday, January 17, 2016

Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith, author of Strangers on a Train, was never happy that people referred to her story as "Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train" after his successful film adaptation. I can sympathise as, comparing the book and film, the the latter is so watered down and bland (same as how I feel about "Hitchcock’s The Birds" compared with its literary counterpart by Daphne du Maurier).

Highsmith is (according to Wikipedia) 'most widely known for her psychological thrillers'. Strangers on a Train (1950) was her dazzling first novel, inspired by her ambivalent feelings towards her mother and a 'guiding darkness'. It was followed by The Price of Salt (as Claire Morgan in 1952), also published as Carol. This was a gay novel at a time when gay novels weren’t published but Highsmith could get away with it. The novel sold millions, and she received many letters from people who said they were inspired to be themselves and live in hope. She never wrote another novel like it. Publishers wanted genre, and thrillers were her schtick. Her dark, macabre fiction was what she wished would happen and her thoughts were usually quite deadly.

Her love affairs were tumultuous, and the worse these affairs worked out, the better the writing (someone once told me). Between 1959 and 1961 she had a relationship with writer Marijane Meaker. Meaker recently wrote of their affair in her memoir, Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s. Highsmith is described as a young, hopeful romantic and a naturally talented artist. Meaker was a fan of Highsmith’s work and they enjoyed a shared creative hub. The relationship broke down, and in the late 1980s, after 27 years of separation, Highsmith began sharing correspondence with Meaker again, and one day she showed up on Meaker's doorstep, drunk and ranting bitterly. 

Meaker recalled her horror at the changes in Highsmith's personality. She described the Highsmith you’ll read about on Wikipedia - misanthropic, cruel, racist; she preferred animals to people, and bred hundreds of snails in her garden at home in Suffolk, England. She once attended a London cocktail party with a "gigantic handbag" that "contained a head of lettuce and a hundred snails" who she said were her "companions for the evening". 

The murderous character in her acclaimed series was Tom Ripley. The novels were about the victory of evil over good and rejoicing in it. It was said that Ripley’s feelings were her own. At the time of her death, her work was out of print in the US, only now is it being reprinted there with more big Hollywood films of her novels pending.

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