FFB: Edith’s Diary by Patricia Highsmith

51iefe949hl._sx317_bo1204203200_Catching up on my neglected Highsmith novels: so focused on the Ripliad lately, it’s good to remember to step aside for her other work. In her introduction Denise Mina talks about this novel being her gateway to the creepy world of Pat, completely by accident. What an introduction! This book is pure dread. It’s crime by content, but as in many of her books, the crime is hardly the main plot element. Edith’s crumbling dissolution as life keeps disappointing her is utterly terrifying as well as perfectly drawn.

It would never get published today because ‘head hopping’ is considered an insurmountable crime. Highsmith hops adroitly from Edith’s increasingly buzzing head to that of her wretched offspring, the supremely creepy Cliffie — incel supreme! — without losing the reader at all or making it too jarring. The jumping off points are well chosen. Highsmith is so good at building unsettling creepiness — Cry of the Owl and This Sweet Sickness also do that superbly. But I think the choice of this invisible middle-aged woman adds a poignant sorrow that breaks you in a way those two novels don’t.

There’s a moment when Edith stands in the little stream in her aunt’s back garden, looking up at the house where she had often been happy. She recalls a line from a Goethe lieder (this is Highsmith, you know), ‘Kennst du das Land?’ and it captures perfectly the distance between the sometime happy child and the woman completely lost in fantasy. Edith remembers the line about the roof and the pillars, but the line that really resonates is, ‘What have they done to you, poor child?’

Highsmith shows you the obvious things, like Cliffie as a child trying to kill the family cat, or her husband’s very dull, very middle-class affair — but in throwaway lines, she also lets you know the cold family life Edith had even as a child. It’s striking that as she veers into insanity the woman not only moves from left-wing political activism to bizarre right-wing diatribes (that often match the author’s opinions) but she also becomes more creative, both in writing her alternative diary-life and her self-taught sculpture. So Pat.

Check out the FFBs at Patti’s blog. Or maybe Todd’s.

Review: Sunburn – Laura Lippman

I inhaled this book. What a great tag line: She has nothing to lose. And everything to hide. The cover is slathered with glowing reviews from big names, big papers (and the Daily Fail) but you know that Lippman’s got a career that has more than earned those plaudits.

This is neo-noir yet as fresh as summer rain (I say with relief that we’ve finally got some this morning — a hot Scotland is just unnatural). Sure it’s got a sexy woman with secrets, private investigators and all kinds of people out to get something and damn the consequences. Lippman takes these sometimes self-conscious tropes and plays with them. Polly actually discovers noir during a bad marriage and it’s literally a lifesaver for her. Adam is no Sam Spade and hurrah for that, but he’s no Walter Neff either.

It’s an irresistible joy to watch two people fall for each other when they’re not sure they can trust each other and everything is against them — but you’re not sure what’s true and neither are they. Lippman alternates between a variety of characters from chapter to chapter and you learn things you didn’t know as well as wrong assumptions they’re making about others. Sometimes you just want to shout at the characters (or maybe that’s just me).

Some quotes:

The problem is, when a man wants her, he usually won’t stop trying to get her. They wear her down, men. She starts off by taking pity on them, ends up feeling sorry for herself.

It’s a special art, asking people to do things, yet making it seem as if you never asked at all.

How had she even figured out what he was planning to do? A witch, that one. She’s a witch.

Sometimes he used to wake up in the middle of the night and find her looking at him. The light from the streetlamp threw a stripe across her eyes, and it was as if she were wearing a mask that allowed her to read his every thought.

Maybe she should write an advice book for men, one that tells them everything they want to hear, as opposed to all those books for women, which tell them to be the opposite of what they are, no matter what that is.

I could keep quoting but this gives you a great idea: lean, mean, addictive — up to the last pages you won’t be sure how things will go. What a pleasure.

FFB: Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Carol (or The Price of Salt)
Patricia Highsmith
1952

‘I like to avoid labels. It’s American publishers who like them.’
~ from the afterword

I finally got around to reading this book originally published pseudonymously by Highsmith. Because I read the Bloomsbury edition it’s called Carol instead of the original title, but I wanted to be sure to read it before I got to see the film. Even if you haven’t read it you’ve probably heard the one important thing is that unlike every other exploitative and/or heartfelt lesbian novel at the time, it has a happy ending. But this is Highsmith, so she keeps you wondering until the last few pages.

“The novel of a love society forbids” offers a lot of classic Highsmith: there’s an uneasy undercurrent of suspense that keeps you dreading the worst. The naive Therese seems destined to make a mess of everything and the cool sophistication of Carol almost makes you think she’ll turn out to be a killer or a psychopath, particularly when the two women discover a private investigator is tailing them.

Superb, surprising and pure Highsmith.

Some quotes:

It was the dress of queens in fairy tales, of a red deeper than blood…she wished she could kiss the person in the mirror and make her come to life, yet she stood perfectly still, like a painted portrait.

She looked at Richard’s face in the flare of his match. The smooth slab of his forehead overhung his narrow eyes, strong looking as a whale’s front, she thought, strong enough to batter something in…she saw his eyes open like unexpected spot of blue sky in the darkness.

The milk seemed to taste of bone and blood, of warm flesh, or hair, saltless as chalk yet alive as a growing embryo…Therese drank it down, as people in fairy tales drink the potion that will transform, or the unsuspecting warrior the cup that will kill.

How was it possible to be afraid and in love, Therese thought. The two things did not go together.

See all the overlooked gems at Patti Abbott’s blog.