Shakes not tremors


Patricia Highsmith is one of those authors who I always intend to read more of. Previously I've read Strangers on a train, and didn't enjoy it as much as the Hitchcock film, and The talented Mr. Ripley, which I did really enjoy - I also enjoyed both the Anthony Minghella film, which just looked beautiful, and the earlier French version, which is stunningly good, starring Alain Delon - Plein soleil. 

I think as a writer, she can be a bit variable, and although classed as a mystery writer of the psychological variety, her novels can sometimes not be at all what you might expect. The tremor of forgery is a good example. It's one weird book. And hence the spoiler alert, because it's virtually impossible to review it, without revealing the plot. For those who don't want to know the plot, let me just say at this point, that it won't be a book that I am going to recommend. To say I was disappointed would be to understate it.

Graham Greene loved this novel, he was impressed by the atmosphere of menace. And, yes, it's true that Highsmith does do this well, and builds the suspense. But although the novel is unsettling and certainly makes you think, it's also oddly unsatisfying.

Ingham, an American writer, is in Tunisia, waiting to meet up with a friend who's thinking of filming one of Ingham's novels. While waiting for the friend to turn up Ingham starts work on a novel. He starts to feel more and more distanced from the USA, as he receives no post from back home. When the mail eventually arrives he discovers that his friend has committed suicide after having an affair with Ingham's girlfriend. In the meantime Ingham has become friendly with Jensen, a gay Danish man, whose dog has gone missing, believed killed, and Adams, an American anti-Communist with rigid moral views.

Ingham is robbed, and then one night someone attempts to enter his room. Ingham throws his typewriter at the intruder, who disappears. The inference is that he has killed the intruder, although there is no proof of this. The rest of the novel follows Ingham as he comes to terms with what he may have done, and contrasts his attitude towards murdering an Arab with how he might have reacted had the same thing happened back home in the States.

It's a weirdly unsettling read. Ingham's own novel is about an amoral forger, who the reader will like and empathise with, but who is actually beyond society. So Highsmith creates a book within a book as Ingham mirrors his own creation. It's clever, but ultimately unsatisfying. I wanted to know what had really happened - had he really killed someone, or was something else going on? Was Adams a spy, or simply a pain in the neck? And I couldn't engage with Ingham at all. He was such a cold fish of a character. She built the suspense superbly but there was no moment of catharsis, so you're left feeling oddly deflated. There's no proper ending or outcome. It's such a strange book, and one that failed to grab me. So disappointing.


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