Devils, lusts and strange desires The life of Patricia Highsmith

Richard Bradford, 1957-

Book - 2021

"Made famous by the great success of her psychological thrillers, The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith is lauded as one of the most influential and celebrated modern writers. However, there has never been a clear picture of the woman behind the books. The relationship between Highsmith's lesbianism, her fraught personality - by parts self-destructive and malicious - and her fiction, has been largely avoided by biographers. She was openly homosexual and w...rote the seminal lesbian love story, Carol. In modern times, she would be venerated as a radical exponent of the LGBT community. However, her status as an LGBT icon is undermined by the fact that she was excessively cruel and exploitative of her friends and lovers. In this new biography, Richard Bradford brings his sharp, incisive style to one of the great and most controversial writers of the twentieth century. He considers Highsmith's bestsellers in the context of her troubled personal life; her alcoholism, licentious sex life, racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and abundant self-loathing."--Amazon.

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BIOGRAPHY/Highsmith, Patricia
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New York : Bloomsbury Caravel 2021.
Physical Description
xiii, 258 pages, 8 unnumbered leaves of unnumbered plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical resources and index.
Main Author
Richard Bradford, 1957- (author)
Review by Booklist Review

Celebrated crime novelist Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley, etc.), was, Bradford writes in this engrossing biography, "an incomparable individual," for she was--among other things--an alcoholic and an equal-opportunity hater. Among the hated were the French, Blacks, Koreans, Catholics, and others. And she was a virulent anti-Semite, although, ironically, three of her female lovers were Jewish. A lesbian, she went through lovers at a prodigious rate, which leads Bradford to refer to her "busy career as a nymphomaniac." Though he neither condones nor apologizes for Highsmith's life, he does praise her work, writing that she has done more than anyone to erode the boundaries between crime writing as a recreational subsidiary and high art. Aside from this generous generalization, he gives careful attention to her individual books, praising some, criticizing others ("ponderous and fatiguing"). Though it breaks little new ground, the book is a happy mixture of biography and criticism. Near its end, Bradford, in judgment, refers to Highsmith's "execrable true self." Readers will find it hard to disagree.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this provocative account, Bradford (Orwell: A Man Of Our Time), an English professor at Ulster University, shows the symmetries between the life and art of Patricia Highsmith (1921--1995). The author uses diaries, interviews, and previous biographies to support his premise that Highsmith's novels exemplify how "fact filters into fiction." Bradford asserts that the staples of Highsmith's fiction--"deranged, murderous individuals" and double identities--are derived from Highsmith's childhood, marked by strife, potential abuse, and her a contentious relationship with her mother. He details how all-consuming (and often overlapping) lesbian affairs in Highsmith's adulthood invoked "love, envy, and fantasy" and perpetuated the "Grand Guignol homoeroticism" of her best-known work including Strangers on a Train (1950), The Price of Salt (1952), and the career-defining The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955). Bradford's psychosexual interpretations of Highsmith's "sadomasochistic catastrophes," however, sometimes strain credulity, as when he writes that "we have to take seriously" that Highsmith's affair with civil servant Ellen Blumenthal led to Highsmith's "casual," self-proclaimed anti-Semitism becoming "visceral." Still, fans of Highsmith's work are sure to gain a deeper appreciation for the exceptional writer and her complicated life. (Jan.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Kirkus Book Review

A critical examination of one of the 20th century's most volatile novelists. Bradford's portrait of Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) is occasionally compelling but largely consumed by an unsettling, didactic preoccupation with Highsmith's same-sex promiscuity. Although many of Highsmith's beliefs were morally reprehensible, notably her extreme anti-Semitism and later anti-Black racism, Bradford's apparent distaste regarding her many lesbian encounters makes for an uncomfortable reading experience. The author develops some interesting and convincing parallels between Highsmith's literary creations and real-life relationships, suggesting that she channeled her darkest neuroses and impulses into her most infamous characters. Her most well-known works, Strangers on a Train (1950) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), are genre-bending stories with engaging, murderous protagonists. The blurred lines of fact and fiction between Highsmith's diaries and her contemporaneous works of literature form the basis of Bradford's examination of her erratic behavior. Throughout the book, comparisons between Highsmith and the criminally deranged, possibly gay Ripley abound--e.g., "Highsmith and Ripley are sexual predators, each manipulates the people in their lives and Highsmith transfers this to the relationships between her fictional creations." What is concerning here is not their similarities but rather Bradford's hyperbole in labeling Highsmith and Ripley as "sexual predators." To be sure, Ripley is a predator and a murderer, but he does not overtly pursue Dickie Greenleaf sexually. More importantly, while Highsmith certainly had many affairs with women during her life, it is difficult to conceive of her actions as "predatory," especially without known accusations. While she was certainly manipulative and struggled with relationships and alcoholism, labeling her a sexual predator is a mischaracterization. Here, as elsewhere in the biography, it is unclear which insights are gained from honest analysis of available material rather than authorial judgment. The potential for a nuanced analysis of Highsmith's complicated life is clouded by a sanctimonious tone. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.