Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith most recent novel, People who knock on the door, was published last year.

Miss Maigret

Patricia Highsmith, 4 October 1984

This book is already celebrated for its suggestion of an incestuous relationship between Simenon and his only daughter, Marie-Jo, a suicide at 25 in 1978. Any such relationship seems to have been one-sided – on the daughter’s part, and that only in her head. Marie-Jo’s contribution to Intimate Memoirs takes up the last 150 pages, and is called ‘Marie-Jo’s Book’. It consists of her early nature-oriented short stories, starting in childhood, and goes through adolescence, to poems and monologues recorded on cassettes in early and brief adulthood, during which time she seemed to be starving for her father’s love, which in a paternal fashion he gave in abundance, as he always had. The preceding six hundred-odd pages are Simenon’s, telling of his first marriage to Tigy, mother of his son Marc, of houses, trips, holidays, of sexual encounters everywhere, of family Christmases. He tells of meeting in New York the young French-Canadian woman called D who was to be his next wife; he describes the births of their three children and the development of their characters. Tigy remained close by, sometimes under the same roof. So did a slowly increasing entourage who tended the ever-enlarging Simenon abode, wherever it might be. Because of the build-up of characters, as in a novel, the collapse of Marie-Jo at the end of Simenon’s account is all the more shocking, and all the sadder, because the reader has seen, and amply, the concern and love of Georges in all of this. The result, when one has read through these pages, is a sense of depression, and of some sympathy for Simenon. By this time, D has taken to drinking a little too much Scotch, and has turned against her husband, not for the usual reasons of infidelity, neglect or mental torture, but because she strove to be ever more important – top dog, in fact. From Simenon’s account, she might win some prize as a bitch.’

Fallen Women

Patricia Highsmith, 21 June 1984

Gordon Burn gives us no comment of his own on the story he has to tell – just the facts: no speculation as to why Peter Sutcliffe behaved as he did, just the events, the family life, anecdotes that may or may not be pertinent, the pubs and their atmosphere. And we go back, or rather from the beginning of the book we go forward – from Sutcliffe’s grandparents on both sides. How else is he to explain, or attempt to explain, this odd man who spread 13 murders over six years, and fooled even those closest to him until almost the last moment? That Sutcliffe was insane in some way is an inevitable conclusion after reading all the facts about him. All the facts? At once one has to start hedging: we know nothing of Sutcliffe’s relations with his wife Sonia, to whom he was devoted: to know something about these might have clarified a little the puzzling defence he put up in saying that God had spoken to him, and told him to kill prostitutes. If God spoke to him as far back as when he was 20, and employed as a gravedigger in a church cemetery (where he claims to have first heard the voice), then Sutcliffe never mentioned it to his brothers Mick and Carl, nor to pub pals like Trevor Birdsall, which leads one to suspect that Sutcliffe might have thought there was something rather wrong or unpopular about such a message, assuming he ever received it. He was not known for faithful church attendance.

Lovers on a Train

Susannah Clapp, 10 January 1991

‘Beautifully written’ is novel-reviewer’s shorthand for ‘written by a woman’. So is ‘slim’. And ‘slender’. I began to note these casual...

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Death for Elsie

Christopher Ricks, 7 August 1986

Patricia Highsmith has been praised by Graham Greene in the good old way as ‘a writer who has created a world of her own’. She can be even better than that – when she takes a...

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Beltz’s Beaux

D.A.N. Jones, 3 March 1983

Aliza Shevrin has served her apprenticeship as one of the dutiful translators of Isaac Bashevis Singer, along with Ruth Schachner Finkel, Rosanna Gerber, Dorothea Straus et al. She seems no less...

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Ugly Stuff

Ian Hamilton, 15 October 1981

William Trevor is bewitched by childhoods and by second childhoods: the ‘grown-up’ bit in between is for him a dullish swamp of lies, commerce, lust and things like that. For Trevor,...

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Pseud’s Corner

John Sutherland, 17 July 1980

Every publication is required, by law I believe, to carry the printer’s name. No such rigorous obligation attaches to statements of authorship. It is a licence that fiction, in particular,...

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