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The Crime Writer (2016)

de Jill Dawson

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'Brilliant' Paula Hawkins In 1964, the eccentric American novelist Patricia Highsmith is hiding out in a cottage in Suffolk, to concentrate on her writing and escape her fans. She has another motive too - a secret romance with a married lover based in London. Unfortunately it soon becomes clear that all her demons have come with her. Prowlers, sexual obsessives, frauds, imposters, suicides and murderers: the tropes of her fictions clamour for her attention, rudely intruding on her peaceful Suffolk retreat. After the arrival of Ginny, an enigmatic young journalist bent on interviewing her, events take a catastrophic turn. Except, as always in Highsmith's troubled life, matters are not quite as they first appear . . . Masterfully recreating Highsmith's much exercised fantasies of murder and madness, Jill Dawson probes the darkest reaches of the imagination in this novel - at once a brilliant portrait of a writer and an atmospheric, emotionally charged, riveting tale.… (més)
  1. 00
    Shirley de Susan Scarf Merrell (sturlington)
    sturlington: One book has Shirley Jackson as a character, the other has Patricia Highsmith.
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Es mostren totes 5
The Author Kills

Can we separate an author from her work? In other words, even if the author would be someone we’d be hard pressed to like, even tolerate, as an acquaintance, can we just ignore the real person and enjoy and admire her work? Absolutely, unless she bases her work on nefarious deeds carried out in real life … oh, heck, even then, and maybe more so, for then we know the crime writer actually knows of what she writes. Jill Dawson uses facts pulled from Patricia Highsmith’s life, among them her depression and depressive personality, her conflicted relationship with her mother, her desire for solitude and interaction on her own terms, her preference for animals over humans, her alcoholism, and her sexuality to imagine author Highsmith as serial killer. It’s an arresting concept that almost works, except for stretches when it becomes muddled by too much philosophizing, which make the novel seem lengthier than its 240 pages.

So, to offer another self-preservation answer the opening question, maybe not in the case of Dawson’s Highsmith, for you would be placing your life in her hands, hands that murder repeatedly. Highsmith has taken a cottage in Suffolk, England, to get away from things, and to write three books simultaneously, two novels and a how-to. She’s drinking too much, smoking incessantly, collecting snails and mating them (oh yes, indeed, she did like snails), worrying about her nosey old neighbor, fretting over a possible stalker, waxing literary with her male, gay, poet friend Ronnie, and most of all, obsessing over the love of her life at the moment, Sam. Sam lives in London, is married to a successful banker named Gordon, and has a young daughter, Minty. Gordon isn’t the nicest of fellows, as he is controlling, abusive, and jealous, thinking that Sam may have a lover on the side, a male lover. Patricia and Sam manage a couple of assignations. But then Gordon decides to pay a surprise visit on Sam and the girlfriend she claims to be visiting. Things get out of hand and the novel morphs from The Price of Salt into a blend of Crime and Punishment and Highsmith’s novels. This doesn’t really give anything away because the crux of tale deals with Highsmith’s psychological state.

Holding onto Sam’s affection and Gordon are not Highsmith’s only challenges. Up pops a young, vivacious, rich wannabe reporter, Virginia (Ginny) Smythson-Balby. She wants to interview Patricia, then after that she reveals she’s working on a biography of Highsmith, but then, really, she is the assistant to the biographer. Highstreet rails about Smythson-Balby but also finds herself attracted to her. Part of the reason is that she believes she knows young Smythson-Balby from a lesbian bar, maybe in Greenwich Village, could have been Paris. In the end, many of the fears plaguing her throughout the novel reveal themselves and her dicey situation with Gordon’s demise, and her Raskolnikov-like turmoil, get something of a resolution, à la Tom Ripley.

Those fans of or simply interested in Patricia Highsmith will like that Dawson includes Highsmith novels she used in writing the book, as well as other sources she consulted. If you are a Highsmith fan and know her work, you are the prime candidate for Dawson’s novel. Otherwise, you may find it at times tough slogging.
( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
The Author Kills

Can we separate an author from her work? In other words, even if the author would be someone we’d be hard pressed to like, even tolerate, as an acquaintance, can we just ignore the real person and enjoy and admire her work? Absolutely, unless she bases her work on nefarious deeds carried out in real life … oh, heck, even then, and maybe more so, for then we know the crime writer actually knows of what she writes. Jill Dawson uses facts pulled from Patricia Highsmith’s life, among them her depression and depressive personality, her conflicted relationship with her mother, her desire for solitude and interaction on her own terms, her preference for animals over humans, her alcoholism, and her sexuality to imagine author Highsmith as serial killer. It’s an arresting concept that almost works, except for stretches when it becomes muddled by too much philosophizing, which make the novel seem lengthier than its 240 pages.

So, to offer another self-preservation answer the opening question, maybe not in the case of Dawson’s Highsmith, for you would be placing your life in her hands, hands that murder repeatedly. Highsmith has taken a cottage in Suffolk, England, to get away from things, and to write three books simultaneously, two novels and a how-to. She’s drinking too much, smoking incessantly, collecting snails and mating them (oh yes, indeed, she did like snails), worrying about her nosey old neighbor, fretting over a possible stalker, waxing literary with her male, gay, poet friend Ronnie, and most of all, obsessing over the love of her life at the moment, Sam. Sam lives in London, is married to a successful banker named Gordon, and has a young daughter, Minty. Gordon isn’t the nicest of fellows, as he is controlling, abusive, and jealous, thinking that Sam may have a lover on the side, a male lover. Patricia and Sam manage a couple of assignations. But then Gordon decides to pay a surprise visit on Sam and the girlfriend she claims to be visiting. Things get out of hand and the novel morphs from The Price of Salt into a blend of Crime and Punishment and Highsmith’s novels. This doesn’t really give anything away because the crux of tale deals with Highsmith’s psychological state.

Holding onto Sam’s affection and Gordon are not Highsmith’s only challenges. Up pops a young, vivacious, rich wannabe reporter, Virginia (Ginny) Smythson-Balby. She wants to interview Patricia, then after that she reveals she’s working on a biography of Highsmith, but then, really, she is the assistant to the biographer. Highstreet rails about Smythson-Balby but also finds herself attracted to her. Part of the reason is that she believes she knows young Smythson-Balby from a lesbian bar, maybe in Greenwich Village, could have been Paris. In the end, many of the fears plaguing her throughout the novel reveal themselves and her dicey situation with Gordon’s demise, and her Raskolnikov-like turmoil, get something of a resolution, à la Tom Ripley.

Those fans of or simply interested in Patricia Highsmith will like that Dawson includes Highsmith novels she used in writing the book, as well as other sources she consulted. If you are a Highsmith fan and know her work, you are the prime candidate for Dawson’s novel. Otherwise, you may find it at times tough slogging.
( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
As some of you may know, I've been reading more books by and about Patricia Highsmith over the past year, so when The Crime Writer crossed my path, I had to give it a try.

In the book, Jill Dawson uses Patricia Highsmith as the lead character. Dawson thoroughly researched Highsmith's life and work, which - from what I gather - makes for a believable character in the book, although of course we will never know as Highsmith herself was a bit of a recluse (by her own choice) and a bit of a mystery. All this adds to the credibility of Dawson's imagined character of Pat.

As for the story, it describes Pat withdrawing to the English countryside, trying to work away from the distractions of her fans and her family.

During her stay, she seemed to be pursued by a stalker and by a journalist, whose motives are not clear. Is she being investigated? Is her clandestine relationship with a married woman being put at risk of discovery? Are all of these things connected?

In time, Pat is entangled in a web of intrigue and concealment.

It's an engaging enough plot, and my only criticisms are these:

1. Part of the plot strongly reminded me of Sarah Waters The Paying Guests, which I actually enjoyed but it did take away some of the plot development.

2. Although this is a fictional account, some of the plot hinges on actual facts in Highsmith's own life, and as such I could not help but notice a couple of anachronisms. The most, to me, irritating of which is in connection with Highsmith's book The Price of Salt (later re-published as Carol). Highsmith published the book under a pseudonym, and it was not widely known (according to Andrew Wilson's biography Beautiful Shadow) until much later than when The Crime Writer is set. Accoding to Wilson's biography, which is largely based on Highsmith's own diaries and records, Highsmith was not aware that anyone (other than her immediate family and her publisher) knew she had written The Price of Salt until the 70s after a neighbour of her mother's tried to discuss the book with her. Officially, Highsmith only acknowledged the book at the time of its re-publication in 1990. So, the developments in Dawson's story which involved The Price of Salt threw me a little.

All in all, however, The Crime Writer was an enjoyable way to re-imagine one of the most puzzling and contradictory writers I like to ponder about.

(Review dated 14 January 2017) ( )
  BrokenTune | Jun 6, 2020 |
A somewhat muddy novel about Patricia Highsmith living in Suffolk, writing, and carrying on an affair with a married woman. There is a lot of drinking and there are quite a few snails about. Highsmith herself seems quite muddled, brooding on creepy stalkerish letters she had been receiving and her very unhappy childhood. When there is an abrupt switch from third-person past tense to first-person present tense, I think the reader is supposed to suspect that we have left the "real-life" events of the novel and entered into Highsmith's fantasies, or perhaps the novel she is writing--but this is never clear. The story takes on the frenetic but stuttering quality of an alcoholic fugue, which matches Highsmith's state of being but doesn't do much to add clarity for the reader. I think this was a good idea, and an interesting character study of a fascinating novelist, but in the end, not completely successful.

___

I have read back-to-back two novels about recently alive writers that imply those writers may have been murderers, and so now I'm going to compare them. Susan Scarf Merrell, the author of Shirley, about Shirley Jackson, and Jill Dawson, the author of The Crime Writer, about Patricia Highsmith, both show a thorough knowledge and appreciation of their subjects and seem mainly to want to write a book in the style of their favorite authors. I have to wonder then why they don't just write their own novels instead of delving into a real person's life. When there are still people alive who remember both Jackson and Highsmith, it seems a little icky, especially imagining these women committing murder out of love. It also reinforces a bit too much the fallacy of confusing a writer with what she writes about. These novels were clever conceits but ultimately just curiosities that I'll probably never pick up again, as they stray rather too far into fan-fiction territory. Their subjects' novels, though, remain eminently readable and rereadable. ( )
  sturlington | Mar 29, 2019 |
OK, this is sort of a strange read. It feels like fake news. I don't know how to read a book about a person in living memory, that as far as I know didn't murder people. I think it mainly piqued my interest in Patricia Highsmith. I knew that she wrote Mr Ripley, talented or otherwise, but not strangers on a train. ( )
  kk1 | Sep 5, 2017 |
Es mostren totes 5
...a fictionalised account of a time in Paula Highsmith's life when she was living in Sussex and fantasising about murdering her husband's lover. It's brilliant.
afegit per Sylak | editaStylist [Issue 338], Paula Hawkins (Oct 12, 2016)
 
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'Brilliant' Paula Hawkins In 1964, the eccentric American novelist Patricia Highsmith is hiding out in a cottage in Suffolk, to concentrate on her writing and escape her fans. She has another motive too - a secret romance with a married lover based in London. Unfortunately it soon becomes clear that all her demons have come with her. Prowlers, sexual obsessives, frauds, imposters, suicides and murderers: the tropes of her fictions clamour for her attention, rudely intruding on her peaceful Suffolk retreat. After the arrival of Ginny, an enigmatic young journalist bent on interviewing her, events take a catastrophic turn. Except, as always in Highsmith's troubled life, matters are not quite as they first appear . . . Masterfully recreating Highsmith's much exercised fantasies of murder and madness, Jill Dawson probes the darkest reaches of the imagination in this novel - at once a brilliant portrait of a writer and an atmospheric, emotionally charged, riveting tale.

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