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The Crime Writer (2016)

de Jill Dawson

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883236,709 (3.41)13
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: A Novel de Susan Scarf Merrell (sturlington)
    sturlington: One book has Shirley Jackson as a character, the other has Patricia Highsmith.
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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 3
...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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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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