Tuesday 12 June 2012

Introducing Choose Your Highsmith: The Patricia Highsmith Recommendation Engine

So, having completed a series of posts on little-seen British first editions of Patricia Highsmith suspense novels – the dust jackets of all of which have now, of course, joined my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery – I had intended to move swiftly on to a Westlake Score. But as is often the way with Existential Ennui – where I frequently receive behind-the-scenes emails from readers drawing my attention to literary matters which might be of interest to me – no sooner had I posted the final Highsmith missive than I was contacted by Steve Colca from W. W. Norton in the States. Norton publish many of Highsmith's novels and short stories, and on 4 June reissued twenty-one of her books as ebooks, including all five Tom Ripley novels. And to promote this happy event, they've come up with a fun web innovation:

Choose Your Highsmith: The Patricia Highsmith Recommendation Engine. It's simple enough to navigate, but in case there are any grandmothers among us requiring further instruction vis-a-vis sucking eggs, here's how it works. You click on the "Choose Your Highsmith" button at top left:

Then click through to choose a setting:

Hmm... I believe I'll go for a European locale in this instance, which presents me with these options:

I'm thinking France, which leads me here:

Choices, choices... I think I'd like to read about a shooting:

Um, yes, really...

And there you have it: the recommendation is my favourite Highsmith novel, Ripley's Game, which does indeed feature a shooting in France, towards the end of the book. Although it also features a shooting in Germany, and there doesn't appear to be a "shooting" option if you pick Germany earlier in the process. But no matter: The Patricia Highsmith Recommendation Engine is a diverting development both for Highsmith neophytes and for those of us who are more familiar with her work, and W. W. Norton have also included a short video on the site, which sees the likes of graphic novelist Alison Bechdel and Highsmith's biographer Joan Schenkar extolling the virtues of "the poet of apprehension" (as Graham Greene put it).

I'll have more on Patricia Highsmith in the not-too-distant future, notably a very special first edition of one of her short story collections. But next on Existential Ennui – and indeed on The Violent World of Parker blog – that promised Westlake Score...


  1. Sad to say, I only ever picked up one Ripley book, but couldn't get into it so I got rid.

    Starting books and putting them down was a bit of a trait of mine, so I made a list of about 25 that I had done this to and have started
    to revisit them - about 12 down so far and 13 to go.

    I might have been a bit premature in binning Highsmith, but oh well too late now,


  2. It's never too late, Col. I know you've got as towering a "to read" pile as I have, but surely there's room for one Highsmith? Can you recall which was the Ripley book? I would, unsurprisingly, heartily recommend Ripley's Game, which you can read without having tried any of the others, although reading Talented and Ripley Under Ground too would enhance the experience. But on the non-Ripley front, This Sweet Sickness, The Cry of the Owl and The Tremor of Forgery are all first class.

  3. Nick, that's the trouble with me web browsing, I end up with ever increasing numbers of books to track down!

    I honestly can't recall which title it was, I reckon I didn't get past the first few pages, sometimes you pick something up and you just aren't in the mood for the book you've selected, so it goes back on the shelf or in this case off to a car boot!

    Coincidentally, I also started watching Matt Damon in whatever Ripley film it was and gave up on that also - but that was down to tiredness.
    If I cross pass with any Highsmith books in future I'll give her another go,

  4. Let me know if you do, Col! And the Matt Damon film is The Talented Mr Ripley, the first novel, which I quite like. I prefer the John Malkovich-starring adaptation of Ripley's Game though, even though Malkovich isn't really right for Tom.