A couple of weeks ago I went to see the documentary Loving Highsmith about American author Patricia Highsmith. The content for the doco was drawn from her unpublished diaries and notebooks, and the personal accounts of her lovers, friends and family.
But love and hate, he thought now, good and evil, lived side by side in the human heart, and not merely in differing proportions in one man and the next, but all good and all evil. One had merely to look for a little of either to find it all, one had merely to scratch the surface. All things had opposites close by, every decision a reason against it, every animal an animal that destroys it, the male the female, the positive the negative.Strangers on a Train
Highsmith was best known for her psychological thrillers (Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley) and for being part of the Modernist movement. Most of her novels were adapted to the big screen, notably with little need to be changed for the screen.
The partly autobiographical The Price of Salt written in the 1950s and published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan was also adapted for film in 2015 as Carol. Due to the social morals of the time, Highsmith led a double life, hiding her love affairs with women from the public and her family, but reflecting on them in her personal writings. Carol was the first lesbian story with a happy ending published in the USA.
Happiness was like a green vine spreading through her, stretching fine tendrils, bearing flowers through her flesh.Carol
The documentary was fascinating and led me to seek out the audio series, Ripley Radio Mysteries that dramatises her five Ripley novels. The character of Ripley was inspired by a man Highsmith saw from a hotel room in Italy after she moved to Europe. Ripley is not a nice man, though he only kills when absolutely necessary (I mean who doesn’t?). Highsmith wrote him empathetically so as a reader I both liked and loathed him – it’s creepy.
He loved possessions, not masses of them, but a select few that he did not part with. They gave a man self-respect. Not ostentation but quality, and the love that cherished the quality. Possessions reminded him that he existed, and made him enjoy his existence.The Talented Mr Ripley
Protagonist Tom Ripley is materialistic, though not in the usual way. He has an unstable sense of identity and possessions give him a feeling of safety and stability. It is this that leads him to his first kill. He befriended Dickie but felt uncertain about their relationship and killing reduced his friend to a collection of possession of clothes, rings and cash – much more predictable.
The series is tense, atmospheric and twisted. Perfect for a thriller!