Beyond Mr. Ripley: Collecting the Works of Patricia Highsmith

great books by Patricia Highsmith for sale

"Obsessions are the only things that matter." This quote from Patricia Highsmith encapsulates the essence of her literary works. Author of 22 novels and numerous short stories, essays, and articles, her characters are often driven by their obsessions, which become the central focus of her narratives.

Her first novel, Strangers on a Train (1950), published when she was twenty-nine, is also her best-known and most collectible. First editions can range from $5,000 to $15,000 if they contain a rare Highsmith inscription or signature. Two strangers, Guy and Bruno, meet on a train and casually talk of trading murders - except one of the men isn't just speculating. Alfred Hitchcock released an adaptation of the novel in 1951. Highsmith published The Price of Salt the following year under the pseudonym Claire Morgan to preserve her anonymity. The paperback book, published by Bantam, became an underground classic as a groundbreaking lesbian novel with a happy ending. It sold over a million copies, and in 1990, Highsmith finally published it as Carol under her real name.

Her third novel, The Blunderer, published in 1954, is a psychological thriller that delves into the complex dynamics of a toxic marriage. This thought-provoking narrative, published in the UK as Lament for a Lover, involves an unhappy husband who imagines his wife's demise and then finds himself blamed for it when it ultimately occurs. The novel, an early example of Highsmith's prolific career, is a testament to her unique storytelling and ability to delve into the darker aspects of human relationships.

Another toxic marriage story, Deep Water (1957), involves the murderous jealousy of a husband, Vic, over his wife Melinda's extra-marital affairs. First editions of this fifth Highsmith novel range from $1,000 up.

One of Highsmith's most iconic works is her fourth novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, published in 1955. It features Tom Ripley, the ultimate sociopathic striver and confident man. Ripley secures work traveling to Italy to retrieve Dickie, the son of a wealthy shipping magnate. Ripley becomes obsessed with the young heir and takes over his persona. A highly collectible Highsmith, first editions can run upwards of $5,000. The four subsequent Ripley novels, Ripley Under Ground (1970), Ripley's Game (1974), The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980), and Ripley Under Water (1991), are much cheaper, but there are not as many copies on the market if you want a complete set.

The Glass Cell (1964) is a celebrated psychological thriller that delves into the impact of wrongful imprisonment. First editions are available for under $1000. A chapter in her 1966 nonfiction work Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction involves the research that went into writing The Glass Cell as "The Case History of a Novel."

Her later work, Little Tales of Misogyny (1975), reflects her cynical views of love and loathing of the patriarchy in a series of short stories.

Highsmith was also a prolific diarist. She fictionalized her obsession in Edith's Diary (1977), a novel about the psychological dissent of a housewife who imagines her life within the pages of her diary, much different from the actual tragedy befalling her in real time.

Biographies of Highsmith show a complicated woman who was obsessed with writing, engaged in numerous love affairs, and, at times, was bitter, hateful, anti-semitic, and racist. Beautiful Shadow (2003) by Andrew Wilson, The Talented Miss Highsmith (2009) by Joan Schenkar, and Devils, Lusts & Strange Desires (2021) by Richard Bradford all delve into the author's life she kept hidden from public view until her death in 1995 revealed its secrets in a trove of diaries and notebooks. Her editor, Anna von Planta, culled the eight thousand pages Highsmith left behind into Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941-1995 (2021).

An out-of-the-ordinary biography - the graphic novel Flung Out of Space (2022) by Grace Ellis and Illustrated by Hannah Templer is a fictionalized portrayal of Highsmith as a struggling comic writer, the love conquests and unhappy writing that led to her creating Strangers on a Train, and The Price of Salt.

In the case of collecting a library of Patricia Highsmith, whether original scarce signed first editions or later reprints by W.W. Norton, the experience is more pleasant than the mere anticipation.