Morag Joss (whose excellent The Night Following has just appeared from Duckworth) exchanges views on the great Patricia Highsmith (whose novel Deep Water is now being filmed) with The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction’s Barry Forshaw
MORAG JOSS: I find it nearly impossible to find crime writers, post-Highsmith, whose ideas and actual writing – both equally – excite me. Donna Tartt comes closest, and she’s not really thought of as a crime writer.
BARRY FORSHAW: Just re-read Highsmith – stimulating as ever, but the most dyspeptic view of human nature in the genre… Reading Deep Water again (as Mike Nicholls filming it), I thought her world is often murderous men who kill without real thought (and who she implictly exculpates— I once heard her say, without apparent irony, ‘Ripley only kills people who get in his way!’) and stupid, impulse-driven women (for whom she really reserves her contempt). So why do we admire her so much?
MORAG JOSS: I think that IS why – because she presents us with the banality and immaturity of the true psychopath, and flawed women equally, without making judgment. That somehow makes the reader feel the repugnance and dread that she doesn’t express, maybe. Having said that I first read the Ripley novels when I knew nothing about Highsmith’s life and personality – I do now know that she probably didn’t write from a position of wisdom and compassion but does that matter I ask myself, and actually, I think it does.
It’s an interesting Q. – if our perception of the writer’s own character and values should affect judgment of the work. Eg William Trevor similarly never passes judgment on his characters’ blighted lives or their mundane cruelties and stupidities, but I read him with a certainty that he does write from wisdom and compassion, even love. But are those really in the text? If I learned today that he was a misanthropic old cynic would I read the work differently – yes, but should I?!
Then there’s Evelyn Waugh, Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis – all unpleasant!
Morag Joss is publshed by Duckworth