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  • Writer's pictureR. J. Kinnarney

A pacy, thrilling ride

[Updated with post-read thoughts]

It's about 3 decades since my 'Highsmith' phase and I'm delighted to be re-reading this again.

I've recently joined The Clare Mackintosh Book Club and this is the January read. Winter solstice - what a perfect day for it to drop through my letter box; all those hours of darkness to sit and read. Can't wait!

It's years since I've read this and I'll be interested to see whether my views have changed, whether different things stand out for me now. I remember it as a 'Jekyll and Hyde' story. Let's see what I think now.

Have any of you read it? What do you think?

“A writer who created a world of her own - a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger” Graham Greene

'Bruno slammed his palms together. 'Hey! Cheeses, what an idea! I kill your wife and you kill my father! We meet on a train, see, and nobody knows we know each other! Perfect alibis! Catch?''

From this moment, almost against his conscious will, Guy Haines is trapped in a nightmare of shared guilt and an insidious merging of personalities.

I've always struggled with book clubs as I work most evenings, so an online club is just the job for me. More about Clare Mackintosh's book club here:

26th January 2020

So, I finished this a couple of weeks ago but have been immersed in other books, as per (!) and haven't found the time to write up some thoughts.

I found it quite hard to get back into Highsmith's style. It's strange when you haven't read a particular type of writing in a long time, how that happens. It's almost like reading in a different language. You have to tune back into the music of the language.

However, once I'd tuned in, I loved it again and would definitely want to read more of hers.

The book feels almost like riding a wave because she builds the tension and then keeps you hanging while she examines the psychology of the characters. (Mind you, I say this, having never 'ridden a wave' in my life!) I think that this is sometimes perhaps tricky for people to push through, especially since we're used to so much pacier works now. I suppose that's a reflection on how life has changed and everything has become much more immediate.

Once I'd let go of the 'what happens next' idea, I absolutely loved getting stuck into the characters of Guy and Bruno. On the one hand, the whole premise seems fantastical - no-one is going to be coerced, by a complete stranger, into killing someone they've never met. Somehow, though, the quality of Highsmith's portraiture makes this eminently believable to me. I think we've all met people, or are indeed people, who have been influenced to behave out of character. The question is, why do people succumb so easily? And where do you draw the line?

The ending - well, what can I say? Well worth keeping going for, if nothing else is. I'd forgotten how it ends but now that I've re-read, I can't imagine how I could have! I'm not going to give it away here, just in case anyone wants to read it. Suffice it to say, though, as in real life, the ending is not entirely clear cut.

I've recently been listening to the Backlisted Podcast and caught this episode on Highsmith's Edith's Diary, about which I knew absolutely nothing and, indeed, hadn't even heard of it.

This is definitely added to my pile, though. So, if anyone has a copy knocking around and would like to lend it to a careful book owner....!

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