Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Patricia Highsmith, Sour Tales for Sweethearts, and The Talented Mr. Ripley (Virago, 2015)

I've managed to put together a – I think – pretty decent collection of signed and inscribed Patricia Highsmith books over the past few years – eight books in total, three of which I've yet to unveil on Existential Ennui (they're coming, I promise). But the very first signed/inscribed Highsmith book that I bought still holds a special place in my affections: a 1977 Heinemann first edition of Little Tales of Misogyny. In small part that's down to what a bargain the thing was – it only set me back a fiver – but mostly it's the nature of Highsmith's inscription on the front endpaper: a warm expression of "New Year's greetings" to two friends, featuring a little drawing of a glass of fizz and a description of the book as "sour reading – for sweet spirits".

That copy of Little Tales of Misogyny was my inspiration to collect further signed and inscribed Highsmith books, but little did I know when I blogged about it and its inscription three years ago that it would also prove inspirational – in an admittedly minor capacity – in the creation of a Highsmith publication itself; this one:

Sour Tales for Sweethearts, a 32-page pamphlet published by Virago in January of this year. Virago acquired the rights to Highsmith's backlist in the UK in 2013, and have been steadily reissuing her works as e-books and paperbacks – and, in one instance, hardback – ever since, all with rather nice playfully typographical covers. When it came to reissuing Little Tales of Misogyny at the start of this year, to accompany it Virago concocted Sour Tales for Sweethearts, a showcase-cum-promotional item intended to sit beside bookshop tills, featuring four stories from Little Tales of Misogyny: "The Hand" (the gruesome, blackly comic scene-setting opener to Little Tales of Misogyny), "The Invalid, or, The Bed-Ridden", "The Fully-Licensed Whore" and "The Female Novelist" (that last one an unusual entry in Highsmith's canon, in that it's written in the present tense).

I noticed listings for Sour Tales for Sweethearts popping up on eBay a few months back (I tend to keep a close eye on listings for Highsmith books on eBay), and wondered at the time what it was. Its title also rang a vague bell, although I must admit that at that point I didn't quite comprehend why. It was only more recently, a couple of weeks ago in fact, that I made the connection – or rather, the connection was made for me: the title of Sour Tales for Sweethearts was directly inspired by Patricia Highsmith's inscription "sour reading – for sweet spirits" in my copy of Little Tales of Misogyny.

This I learned from Virago's Editorial Director, Donna Coonan, who emailed me to share some very kind words about Existential Ennui in general and my multitudinous Patricia Highsmith posts in particular, which Donna had come across during her research into Highsmith whilst acquiring the author's rights. Following our email exchange, Donna sent me a copy of Sour Tales for Sweethearts, along with a copy of Virago's new hardback edition of The Talented Mr. Ripley, which boasts a fetching case sporting a design by textile designer Marian Mahler and a fine introduction by critic, academic, Ripliad enthusiast and Highsmith aficionado John Sutherland.

It also boasts something I don't believe I've come across before: a Tom Ripley chronology, giving fairly specific dates – season as well as year – for when each of the five Tom Ripley novels is set. I think that merits a separate post though. For now, let me just say thank you to Donna for the copies of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Sour Tales for Sweethearts; it's a thrill to add such a striking edition of Talented to my Highsmith and Ripley collection (and so soon after finally acquiring a first edition too), and to know that in the shape of Sour Tales I've made a small contribution to the wider Highsmith library.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Graham Greene's The End of the Affair and England Made Me: 1959–60 Heinemann Library Editions, Peter Edwards Dust Jackets

Would you believe it, scant days after posting an update to my gallery of Peter Edwards's beautiful dust jackets for the 1959–60 Heinemann Library Edition of the Works of Graham Greene, I've another update, this time courtesy of Peter Edwards's daughter, Martina Weatherley. Martina emailed me earlier today after her niece came across my post on Peter's jackets for the Greene Library Edition, kindly enclosing photographs she took last year of two of the jackets wrapping copies of the Library Edition from her father's own collection:

The End of the Affair, published into the Library Edition in 1959, originally published by Heinemann in 1951, and:

England Made Me, published into the Library Edition in 1960, originally published by Heinemann in 1935. So that's two more of Peter Edwards's splendid wrappers I'm able to add to my original post on the Graham Greene Library Edition (and to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s), meaning that there are just two out of the thirteen Library Editions (that I'm aware of) missing from that post (It's a Battlefield and A Gun for Sale). A huge thank you to Martina, and once again, if anyone can help me plug those last gaps in that post (or even better, in my own collection of the Library Edition), do please either leave a comment or drop me a line via the email address in the sidebar.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Graham Greene's Brighton Rock and The Lawless Roads: 1959–1960 Heinemann Library Editions

NB: Linked in this Friday's Forgotten Books roundup.

Further to my recent post on the thirteen-book 1959–60 Library Edition of the Works of Graham Greene, with their beautiful wraparound Peter Edwards dust jackets, a couple of updates: Existential Ennui reader Henk Konings contacted me with some information about, and images of, a book in the edition that he owns – one that I didn't even realise was in the edition (I've only managed to collect two thirds of the edition thus far); plus I myself have acquired another book in the edition, perhaps the most desirable one of all, if the novel's fame and this edition's scarcity are anything to go by. Let's take a look at that new acquisition first:

Brighton Rock, originally published by Heinemann in 1938, and published into the Heinemann Library Edition of the Works of Graham Greene in 1959, number L2 in the edition. I spotted this copy on eBay the other week and nabbed it for fifteen quid – an absolute bargain, I reckon, considering its scarcity and that a comparable copy of the book on AbeBooks – one of only two jacketed copies of the Library Edition of the novel on that site, both offered by the same seller – with a similarly chipped dust jacket, is priced at £90. That copy, however, like the other copy offered by the seller (which is priced at a rather steep £225, although that one's in better condition), is a 1962 reprint of the 1959 edition – whereas my copy is a 1959 first printing of the Library Edition:

Which makes it a very rare book indeed. But not as rare as the Library Edition book that Henk owns:

The Lawless Roads, originally published by Heinemann in 1939 and issued in the Library Edition in 1960, number L12. Until Henk emailed me, while I had a pretty good idea of which Greene works twelve of the books in the Library Edition were – the ones I own myself, obviously, plus those I'd worked out from my research – there was one I just couldn't nail down. Turns out that book was The Lawless Roads, Greene's account of a journey he took across Mexico in 1938. And the reason I couldn't determine what it was, was that there are no copies whatsoever for sale online. So, my thanks to Henk for solving that mystery, and well done to him for securing such a rare book... and I guess well done to me for securing one that's almost as rare.

I've added both Brighton Rock and The Lawless Roads to my original post on the Library Edition of the Works of Graham Greene, and appended a list of the thirteen books that I'm aware of in the edition, although I don't (yet) know the L numbers of the ones I don't (yet) own; anyone who does, do please let me know. I've also, naturally, added Peter Edwards's wonderful wrappers to the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page.

NB: A further update can be found here.

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Ministry of Fear (1943) by Graham Greene: Book Review, 1960 Heinemann Library Edition

NB: Proffered for this Friday's Forgotten Books round-up.

When I started collecting the 1959–60 Heinemann Library Edition of the Works of Graham Greene a few months back, one of the books I was keenest to acquire was The Ministry of Fear (orig. 1943, Library Edition 1960). It wasn't merely the splendid dust jacket design of the Library Edition – created, like all the other Library Edition wrappers, by Peter Edwards (and I'll have a couple more examples of his work to add to my post on the Library Editions very soon) – that made me want the book; it was also the novel itself, one of Greene's more espionage-inclined pieces of fiction, so I surmised, and therefore of particular interest to me.

But there's a lot more to the thing than mere "entertainment", as Greene himself once styled his more genre-leaning works. Though Greene intended the novel to be, as he put it in his memoir Ways of Escape (The Bodley Head, 1980), "a funny and fantastic thriller" – inspired to a extent by a Michael Innes book he'd recently read – there's an unexpected depth to it as well. In part this is down to the writer's vivid evocation of London during the blitz, penned while the bombs were falling (although the novel was actually written while Greene was stationed in Freetown, Sierra Leone, having been recruited by the Secret Service) – striking, startling asides peppered throughout the book, of a populace "quite accustomed to sleeping underground", of "twenty thousand people... dead already", of war being "very like a bad dream in which familiar people appear in terrible and unlikely disguises" – which serve to offset the more "fantastic" elements of the story and ground the narrative in a tangible veracity.

But it's also the added undercurrent of pain and suffering which weaves through the story, personified by the novel's lead, Arthur Rowe, an essentially decent man and yet a convicted murderer even so (in fact a mercy killing). At a fete in a city square Rowe comes into possession of a copy of Charlotte M. Yonge's The Little Duke and a cake – he can be seen clutching both on Peter Edwards's Library Edition dust jacket. The cake is important for plot purposes – seemingly there's something baked inside it which leads Rowe to be drawn into a foreign power's plot to obtain secret British government papers and consequently to be accused of another murder and detained in a psychiatric hospital – but The Little Duke, from which Greene quotes lines at the start of each chapter, is significant as regards the themes of the novel: the spirit of adventure and the loss of innocence.

That loss of innocence applies to both Arthur as an individual and Britain as a nation at war – "The little duke is dead and betrayed and forgotten; we cannot recognise the villain and we suspect the hero and the world is a small cramped place" – and is made explicit in a dream Arthur has while sheltering in the underground during an air raid, in which he has tea on the lawn with his dead mother:

"This isn't real life any more," he said. "Tea on the lawn, evensong, croquet, the old ladies calling, the gentle unmalicious gossip, the gardener trundling the wheelbarrow full of leaves and grass. People write about it as if it still went on; lady novelists describe it over and over again in books of the month, but it's not there any more."

His mother smiled at him in a scared way but let him talk; he was the master of the dream now. He said, "I'm wanted for a murder I didn't do. People want to kill me because I know too much. I'm hiding underground, and up above the Germans are methodically smashing London to bits all around me. You remember St. Clement's – the bells of St. Clement's. They've smashed that – St. James's, Piccadilly, the Burlington Arcade, Garland's Hotel, where we stayed for the pantomime, Maples and John Lewis. It sounds like a thriller, doesn't it, but the thrillers are like life – more like life than you are, this lawn, your sandwiches, that pine. You used to laugh at the books Miss Savage read – about spies, and murders, and violence, and wild motor-car chases, but, dear, that's real life; it's what we've all made of the world since you died. I'm your little Arthur who wouldn't hurt a beetle and I'm a murderer too. The world has been remade by William Le Queux."

Greene reasons in Ways of Escape that in writing The Ministry of Fear "a little of the love [of London] crept, I think, into the book", and this too can be glimpsed in fleeting moments, such as the man feeding sparrows by putting bits of bread between his lips so that the birds "hovered round his mouth giving little pecks at it as though they were kissing him". But the war and the blitz pervade all – inescapable, searing their terrible and surprising imagery onto the pages: a bomb that destroys Rowe's lodgings, leaving him in the ruins gazing at "an enormous quantity of saucepans all over the floor: something like the twisted engine of an old car [which] turned out to be a refrigerator"; "shell-shocked men" in the psychiatric hospital, "quietly weeping in a corner"; at Paddington Station "season-ticket holders... making a quick get-away from the nightly death"; "a drunk soldier sat alone on a waste of platform vomiting between his knees".

"[The Ministry of Fear] is my favourite among what I called then my 'entertainments'," Greene wrote in Ways of Escape (he eventually dispensed with the distinction between "entertainments" and "novels" in his backlist), although he wished "that the espionage element had been less fantastically handled, though I think Mr Prentice of the Special Branch is real enough – I knew him under another name in my own organisation when I was his pupil". He continues:

The scenes in the mental clinic are to my mind the best in the novel... I think too the atmosphere of the blitz is well conveyed. The three flares which Rowe saw come "sailing slowly, beautifully, down, clusters of spangles off a Christmas tree," I had watched myself, flattened up against the wall of Maple's store on the night of the great raid of April 16, 1941, some months before I left for Africa.

To all of which I would simply add that The Ministry of Fear is the best of Greene's novels that I've read (The Human Factor, 1978, would be a distant-ish second) and by far the best book that I've read this year.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Real Tom Ripley? Origins of Patricia Highsmith's Talented Mr. Ripley

A couple of years ago, in this post on The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980) – the third novel in the five-book Ripliad – I noted that Patricia Highsmith identified with Tom Ripley more than any other character she created. In her guidebook Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (1966) she wrote of Tom's debut, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), "No book was easier for me to write, and I often had the feeling Ripley was writing it and I was merely typing," while later novels in the Ripliad, The Boy Who Followed Ripley among them, are littered with opinions and asides that are ostensibly Tom's but in fact recognisably those of his creator. Highsmith was even known to sign letters to friends, "Tom".

But Highsmith drew on other sources besides herself in her formulation of Tom Ripley. Andrew Wilson, in his 2003 biography of the author, Beautiful Shadow, points to Julian Green's 1947 body-swapping fantasy If I Were You and Henry James's 1903 novel The Ambassadors as two literary inspirations for Tom and The Talented Mr. Ripley. He also highlights a real life inspiration: a Herald Tribune news story that Highsmith read in 1954 about a man "presumed dead after the discovery of a charred body" who "was spotted drinking after his 'funeral' and... arrested". But there's another real life inspiration for Tom, one that Highsmith herself wrote about in an essay for the Winter 1989 issue (#29) of literary journal Granta.

Titled Scene of the Crime, the essay recaps the events of The Talented Mr. Ripley before turning to "the place where Ripley was born," as Highsmith puts it, "in the sense of being a story-less image in my memory". The place is Positano on the Amalfi Coast, which Highsmith visited for the first time in late summer 1951. (Wilson's biography contradicts this, stating that Highsmith first visited Positano in late summer 1949.) Emerging onto the balcony of her hotel one quiet morning Highsmith "noticed a solitary young man in shorts and sandals with a towel flung over his shoulder, making his way along the beach from right to left. He was looking downward... I could just see that his hair was straight and darkish." She continues:

There was an air of pensiveness about him, maybe unease. And why was he alone? He did not look like the athletic type who would take a cold swim alone at an early hour. Had he quarrelled with someone? What was on his mind? I never saw him again. I did not even write anything in my cahier about him. What would there have been to say? He looked like a thousand other American tourists in Europe that summer. I had the feeling that he was American.

The image of the solitary young man returned to Highsmith months later on her second trip to Europe when an idea for a story occurred to her, "...of a young American drifter being sent to Europe to bring another American back home, if possible". (Highsmith admits at this point the similarity of her notion to The Ambassadors.) Yet when she actually came to write The Talented Mr. Ripley, she was "not sure that the Positano beach image with the solitary figure even came to my mind", although Positano itself made it into the novel – and onto the dust jacket of the 1957 British first edition – as Mongibello. It was only "years later [when] journalists asked me, 'Where did you get the idea of Ripley from?' and as I racked my mind to answer, to recall exactly where, [that] the solitary figure on the beach returned to me, and I described his appearance – as I had seen it from two hundred metres or more".

Highsmith writes in closing:

The stretch of the Positano beach, which has not changed much except that it may now hold a few more boats or people, has no particular fascination for me. Ripley was not really born there, was just an image for me, and needed another element to spring to life: imagination, which came many months later.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Unexpected Places to Find a Bookshop No. 376: a Jazz Festival in East Sussex

Namely the Love Supreme Festival at Glynde Place (about ten minutes' drive from base camp in Lewes), which Edie and Rachel and I attended on Saturday, and which turned out to have a book stall selling a variety of remainder stock. I suppose I shouldn't really have been surprised that there was a bookshop at the festival; it's not the first time I've stumbled upon an unexpected book emporium – it's almost as if I'm psychically drawn to such places – but on this occasion it was even more fitting than usual: we were there as guests of Ethan Iverson, pianist in brilliant jazz trio The Bad Plus – who were playing with saxophonist Joshua Redman as part of their 2015 tour – but also crime and spy fiction enthusiast and noted Donald E. Westlake and Ross Thomas aficionado (among many other authors), which is how I know Ethan.

Rachel and I had seen The Bad Plus before, at Ronnie Scott's over two years ago, but Edie hadn't been born by that point, so Saturday was her first exposure to the band (having met Ethan at the side of the stage prior to the performance, she kept asking where he was while they were playing) and to jazz (not to mention her first experience of a festival). I think it made an impression. Here she is later in the day (having demolished a pizza with gusto) playing saxophone:

And piano:

So a big thank you to Ethan for the kind invite to the Love Supreme; I think he'll be pleased that as a result of attending, not only is Edie well on her way to becoming a jazz head, but that her burgeoning book collection expanded even further too.