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.

Bloody Scotland in Dundee

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I was glad to have the chance to catch the Bloody Scotland tour in the Dundee Library last night. As a part of the Dundee Festival of Libraries and Book Week Scotland, it was a great kick off of the week of events. I even made it to the book swap flashmob (though a bit late so more flash than mob) where I picked up a copy of the Treasures anthology and swapped a review book for a signed copy of Jeff Noon’s Automated Alice which looks fun.

I have to say any event that starts off with offering folks a cuppa before they’ve even sat down gets high marks immediately. 🙂

Featured writers included Gordon Brown, Chris Longmuir and Will Jordan, all of whom read a little then answered a few questions. Brown was up first. One of the organisers for the fest, he spoke of the perils of retaining his name, relating an episode where a drunken woman mistook him for the politician and castigated him for selling books when he ought to be sorting out the economy. Having the mistake pointed out, however, she was apologetic and bought three books.

Longmuir read from her Dundee-set novel Missing Believed Dead and spoke about how her years as a social worker helped in her “overnight” success of winning the Dundee prize after years of work. Like many crime writers she bemoaned the administrative changes in the polis and also noted that Dundee keeps changing so fast that it’s hard to set stories in specific places.

Will Jordan admitted it was his first time actually doing a reading but he seemed entirely at ease as he read from his thriller Redemption. He later admitted to writing a lot of his first book while at work, after discovering the super-hard working admin he viewed with awe was actually writing romances (three a year). I suspect during NaNoWriMo the numbers of folks doing that increases.

As usual Waterstones was there to sell their books to the audience. Friday has more crime fiction when James Oswald comes to town. There are all kinds of events this week at the library and at the DCA.

[Pssst, there’s still time to win the Michael Crichton/John Lange books, too.]
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