on November 30, 2003
Fans of Patricia Highsmith's dark and disturbing fiction will undoubtedly find Andrew Wilson's biography an absolutely fascinating if occasionally harrowing reading experience. Highsmith's life was far from a happy one, in fact in many ways it could be charitably described as a disaster. Wilson movingly details her sad, troubled childhood and adolescence during which Highsmith developed an obsession with gruesome death and decay that would haunt her short stories and novels. As an adult, her many sexual encounters always ended in unhappiness. With advancing age, Highsmith became ever more distrustful and ultimately hateful of humankind. Wilson portrays a supremely talented but cold-hearted, misanthropic woman who was eminently unlikeable, even downright detestable. (One of Highsmith's publishers describes her as "the most odious woman I've ever met.") All of this sadness and despair makes us understand and appreciate her disturbing creations all the more. In addition to providing us with a detailed glimpse into the strange life of one of the finest contemporary thriller writers, Wilson adds much to our appreciation of her art by providing concise and revealing analyses of her best works. So good is this exhaustive biography that once you've finished it you'll want to immediately pick up a copy of NOTHING THAT MEETS THE EYE (or any of the other currently available Highsmith collections) and renew your acquaintance with this excellent, morbidly captivating writer.
on December 27, 2003
"She was a weird, unkind, dissolute person." This is how her goddaughter remembers Patricia Highsmith, and after reading Andrew Wilson's biography, I think so, too. But there were all those books and stories. . .
In Beautiful Shadow (a reference to the name of Ripley's home in France, Belle Ombre), Wilson describes quite a lot of Highsmith's writing, so by the end of the book, you may have a long list of novels and stories to look for. He examines her influences, her relationships (romantic and otherwise), and her many quirks.
Highsmith was never very popular in the U.S., at least until the recent movie The Talented Mister Ripley, came out after her death. She was more successful in Europe, where fans even recognized her in the street. Perhaps this explains why she lived most of her adult life in Europe. She was never very comfortable anywhere, even in her own body, according to those who knew her, but she seemed less uncomfortable in Europe.
What sort of a mind comes up with the sort of strange, compelling stories that Highsmith did, with their amoral and still often sympathetic characters? Wilson goes a long way toward answering that question in this biography, but some questions remain unanswered, and maybe it's better that way.
on November 23, 2003
This is an impressive work of conjecture based on interviews, diary notes and the author's obvious adoration of his subject. Unfortunately, much of it seems only that: his opinion and theory. As interesting as the work of the prolific Highsmith continues to be, the writer herself comes off pretty thoroughly unlovable and not altogether fascinating. The good news, however, is that the biography succeeds in stimulating one's desire to explore Highsmith's works beyond the RIPLEY stories and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. I've already ordered several and look forward to reading them.
on May 1, 2008
This is a biography worth reading. Makes you understand the writer, her fictitious characters, and the geneses of her stories. I'm almost finished reading it, and I hate coming to the end of this biography.