Friday 27 September 2013

Patricia Highsmith Shelf Porn (Slight Return)

Apropos of nothing other than I took a load of pictures of my Patricia Highsmith shelf for yesterday's post on Deep Water and only used one of them, plus it subsequently occurred to me that an update to this shelf porn post from over three years ago might be of mild interest – and furthermore Patti Nase Abbott's Friday's Forgotten Books Patricia Highsmith special is, as the "Friday" in the title suggests, actually today, not yesterday (evidently I simply couldn't wait another day for the world to read my erudite and pithy ruminations on Deep Water) – presenting the Existential Ennui Patricia Highsmith first (and other) editions book collection, 2013 iteration:

You can see that it's expanded somewhat from the collection as it stood back in 2010:

Although, remarkably, it's still in the same glass-doored cabinet it was back then, whereas all my other books have migrated to various far-flung (i.e., upstairs) bookcases and, in some cases, sadly (but necessarily; hello, little Edie), boxes in the loft.

Additions and updates since 2010 are, in the bottom photo, from left to right: a first edition of Andrew Wilson's biography of Highsmith, Beautiful Shadow (Bloomsbury, 2003; I think I already owned that one by the time of that post, but it must have been shelved elsewhere); an uncorrected proof of Carol (Bloomsbury, 2000, alias The Price of Salt); a signed limited edition of Ripley Under Water (London Limited Editions/Bloomsbury, 1991); a first edition of Little Tales of Misogyny (Heinemann, 1977; not, in fact, the one seen in the 2010 photo, which I've since sold, but a signed edition I've since acquired); a first edition of The Tremor of Forgery (Heinemann, 1969, replacing the Penguin paperback I read in 2009); a first edition of The Glass Cell (Heinemann, 1967 – another replacement, this time for an ex-library copy); and first editions of This Sweet Sickness (Heinemann, 1961), A Game for the Living (Heinemann, 1959) and, of course, Deep Water (Heinemann, 1958).

And resting atop the hardbacks, new additions are: an uncorrected proof of Ripley Under Ground (Heinemann, 1971); a first American paperback edition of The Talented Mr. Ripley (Dell, 1959); a first (revised) edition of Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (Poplar Press, 1983); and just visible far right, an uncorrected Heinemann proof – which, it suddenly strikes me, I've yet to blog about – of the aforementioned The Tremor of Forgery (Heinemann, 1969) and a curious hardback edition of The Talented Mr. Ripley (Heinemann, 1973). (Not seen in that more recent photo, by the way, is my 1961 Pan paperback edition of Deep Water, as I was using it to write my review.)

I make that thirteen Patricia Highsmith books bought in the three or so years since I posted that original Highsmith shelf porn piece in May 2010 (actually, fourteen: I briefly owned a 1994 Chancellor Press omnibus edition of four of the Tom Ripley novels but donated it to a Lewes charity shop). Which is only slightly less than the roughly fifteen Highsmith books I must have bought in the two years from May 2008, when I moved to Lewes, to May 2010. So, y'know: at least I'm slowing down a bit.

Hmm. Something else just occurred to me: the acquisition of that Heinemann first of Deep Water means I could, if I so desired, put together a proper Patricia Highsmith Heinemann first edition cover gallery...

Thursday 26 September 2013

Patricia Highsmith, Deep Water, the Hunt for the 1958 Heinemann First Edition, and a Review; a Friday's Forgotten Books Special

When Patti Nase Abbott announced a month or two back that this Friday's Forgotten Books round-up would be devoted to Patricia Highsmith, one book sprang immediately to my mind. I've read a lot of Highsmith – not all her work, not by any means (I haven't tried many of her short stories), but certainly well over half of her novels, including all five of the Tom Ripley booksThe Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, Ripley's Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley and Ripley Under Water, collectively known as the Ripliad, which I recently finished rereading – and almost all of the novels she published in the first half of her career, from Strangers on a Train (1950) to The Glass Cell (1964). (See the bottom of this post for links to some of my previous Highsmith missives.) With, until very recently, one glaring, early exception (well, two actually – I still haven't read 1952's pseudonymous The Price of Salt, but I consider that a less glaring exception than this one): 

Deep Water. Highsmith's fifth novel (including the aforementioned The Price of Salt), it was originally published in the States in 1957 by Harper & Brothers, and the following year in the UK by Heinemann, but the edition seen here is the 1961 Pan first British paperback edition (lovely cover art by Sam Peffer), which for a long time was the best I could do in terms of my collection. (Note to those readers not remotely interested in matters to do with book collecting: you might consider skipping the next few paragraphs and instead heading straight to the review of Deep Water further down the post; although, that said, if you really aren't remotely interested in matters to do with book collecting, one wonders what on earth you're doing reading Existential Ennui in the first place.)

See, although I've been collecting Patricia Highsmith in British hardback first edition for over five years (and reading her for a lot longer), I'd pretty much resigned myself to probably never owning dust-jacketed firsts of Strangers on a Train, The Blunderer, The Talented Mr. Ripley – all published in the UK by Cresset Press in, respectively, 1950, 1956 and 1957 – or Deep Water, due to their being prohibitively expensive (not to mention scarce). Instead I'd collected (less valuable but arguably scarcer) Corgi and Pan paperbacks of those four books and resolved that if I ever won the Lottery, I'd revisit the situation.

Still and all, Deep Water, being the first of the sixteen Highsmith novels published by Heinemann in the UK (not counting their later reissues of Strangers, Blunderer and Talented), and the only one I didn't own, remained a tantalising prospect. Despite being the rarest of all the early Highsmith British firsts (I suspect Heinemann underestimated their print run in the wake of Talented; the book was reprinted in the year of publication), historically prices haven't been too astronomical, floating somewhere around the £250–£300 mark for a first impression – still out of my range, obviously, but given a little luck... And so I'd check the likes of AbeBooks and eBay periodically, wondering if an affordable copy might somehow hove into view (I thought I was in with a chance when a first appeared on eBay one time, but then bidding went north of £100) – until, quite unexpectedly, one did:

A genuine 1958 Heinemann first edition/first impression. It popped up on AbeBooks a month ago, and even though I didn't have an alert set, I happened to be looking, and after establishing that it was indeed a first impression – as evidenced by the dust jacket back flap (which on the same-year reprint carries reviews of the novel itself) and the interior copyright line – I snapped it up. The only real fault is there's a small chunk missing from the wrapper, but considering I paid a fraction of the going rate, I can live with that. The dust jacket, by the way, was designed by Stein, who also designed the wrapper for the 1959 Heinemann edition of A Game for the Living, and it's now taken its place in the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery (increasing the number of covers therein to 120).

So, having at long last acquired a Heinemann first of Deep Water, and knowing that the Patricia Highsmith Friday's Forgotten Books special was imminent, I figured the least I could do was read the damn thing. And happily, after all the time and effort I put into getting my hands on a first edition (actually not that much effort, but a fair amount of time), I'm pleased to report that it's good. Not quite The Tremor of Forgery or Ripley's Game good, but maybe This Sweet Sickness or The Cry of the Owl good. Bloody good, in other words.

Highsmith's point-of-view character – her sole point-of-view character, unlike Strangers on a Train and The Blunderer (where there are two perspectives), but like The Talented Mr. Ripley and This Sweet Sickness – is Victor Van Allen, a well-to-do small-town small-press publisher in his late thirties, and a cuckold in all but name. Vic's wife, Melinda, has been merrily carrying on with a succession of men while Vic affects an air of studied indifference, seemingly content to breed snails (also a pastime of Highsmith's) and read terribly dull-sounding books about installing stained glass in church windows. But beneath the surface the tension is building: first Vic boasts (untruthfully) to one of Melinda's paramours that he killed a previous beau, and then matters boil over when a party the Van Allens attend ends with Melinda's latest lover, a cocktail bar pianist, floating face down in the swimming pool.

Highsmith's stated aim with Deep Water, as recounted in Andrew Wilson's 2003 biography Beautiful Shadow, was to convey the "sniping, griping, ambushing" of a loveless marriage, the "ballet of the wearing of the nerves", as well as to show how "repressed emotions can become schizophrenic" and "explore the diseases produced by sexual repression". All this she does with aplomb, greatly assisted by adhering doggedly to Vic's viewpoint, forcing us to empathise with him even as we pity him and are eventually appalled by him (a trick she performed previously in Talented and would go on to deploy in three of the four Ripley sequels, among others).

Andrew Wilson notes in Beautiful Shadow that the inhibited, remote Vic "shares quite a few characteristics" with Highsmith's most famous outsider, Tom Ripley, and indeed he does; but Tom never cuts quite so tragic a figure as Vic, even in his more impulsive incarnation in Talented. Tom's goal was to attain the kind of idle, comfortable existence he coveted in Dickie Greenleaf, at which he succeeds; Vic, worn down by his wayward wife, desires nothing more than a quiet life with his sodding snails (or at least thinks he does), and can't even manage that. Both are driven to murder, but though neither displays much in the way of a conscience ("Vic's guilt did not materialize," Highsmith narrates drily), Tom proves rather better at the act than Vic, especially the getting away with it.

Still, as Highsmith retorted when the critic Craig Brown called Vic a weak man, "At least he HAD A GO." It's clear where her sympathies lie: not with flighty, flirtatious Melinda, who suspects her cold fish husband and schemes to bring about his downfall; not with the private detectives she employs, or Don Wilson, the "humourless", "hack" writer of western, detective and romance stories who assists her; not with any of the bores in the Val Allens' stultifying suburban circle; but with Vic; poor, doomed, snail-watching Vic, whose final, furious explosion is an arresting, unforgettable testament to the dangers of bottling up one's feelings.

Head to Patti Nase Abbot's blog this Friday, 27 September, for a bunch more Patricia Highsmith missives, and click here and here for Highsmith bonus posts, and here to visit the newly established Existential Ennui Patricia Highsmith First Edition Book Cover Gallery.

Previous Existential Ennui Patricia Highsmith Posts

The Great Tom Ripley Reread

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
Ripley Under Ground (1970)
Ripley's Game (1974)
The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980)
Ripley Under Water (1991)
The Ripliad Revisited and Rated

Other Ripley Posts

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1973)
The Tom Ripley Novels

Other Novels

Strangers on a Train (1950) and The Blunderer (1954)
The Price of Salt (1952), alias Carol
A Game for the Living (1958)
This Sweet Sickness (1960)
The Cry of the Owl (1962)
The Two Faces of January (1964)
The Glass Cell (1965)
The Tremor of Forgery (1969)

Short Stories

Little Tales of Misogyny (1977)


Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction (1981 revised edition)

Collecting Highsmith

The Secret Bookshop
Ripley's Claim
New Arrivals
To Arundel and Chichester
Knock knock, it's a New Arrival
Patricia Highsmith Shelf Porn
Patricia Highsmith First Editions, Part 1
Patricia Highsmith First Editions, Part 2
Patricia Highsmith Shelf Porn (Slight Return)

Odds and Sods

I've realised
Looking for the Perfect Bond (and Ripley too)
Ripley's Flicks
Ripley Under Ground Movie Review

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Barbara and Eileen Walton Book Covers for Berkely Mather, Ross Macdonald, Michael Gilbert, Brian Cleeve and Ian Mackintosh

As the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery has expanded – as of this post it stands at 119 wrappers – the dearth of female dust jacket designers represented therein has become ever more noticeable, at least to me. (That there's a dearth of female authors too is a whole other kettle of fish, and one best dealt with another time.) Whether or not there were fewer women than men designing dust jackets back then I couldn't say – my sense, based on the books in my collection, is that there probably were – but even so, it's certainly the case that there were a good many talented female jacket designers working during that golden age, and two of the most prolific, distinctive and, to my mind, best, were sisters Barbara and Eileen Walton.

I became aware of the Waltons courtesy of book dealer Jamie Sturgeon, who has been collecting examples of their work for years; his Barbara Walton Flickr stream can be found here, and his Eileen Walton one here. Little is known about the sisters beyond the covers they designed – paperbacks as well as dust wrappers – and the years they were in operation; Steve Holland at Bear Alley collated what scant information he could find back in 2011, and all I can add to that is that Eileen did some illustrations for Woman's Own and some advertising work in the 1950s (see here, here and here for examples).

I only own five books sporting Walton-designed dust jackets myself – one by Eileen, four by Barbara – but they're all terrific, and all deserving of a place in Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s. And since the only one of them I've posted thus far is Barbara's jacket for Ross Macdonald's The Zebra-Striped Hearse, I thought I'd gather them all together in a mini-gallery to mark their entry onto the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design page. To wit: 

The Pass Beyond Kashmir by Berkely Mather, published by Collins in 1960, dust jacket design by Barbara Walton. Mather – a pseudonym of John Evan Weston Davies – is fairly well regarded in spy fiction circles, and this is his second novel, although the first in his Idwal Rees series. It was reissued by Mike Ripley's Top Notch Thrillers last year, and reviewed at that time by John at Pretty Sinister Books. I have every intention of returning to Mather at some point, although given that I first teased a Mather appearance two years ago, who the hell knows when that will be. 

The Zebra-Striped Hearse by Ross Macdonald, published by Collins in 1963, dust jacket design again by Barbara Walton. I covered this one last week, so let's move swiftly on to:

After the Fine Weather by Michael Gilbert, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1963, dust jacket design this time by Eileen Walton. The similarity of style with sister Barbara is self-evident, although it is, I think, still possible to tell the two apart (most of the time). Gilbert I blogged about quite recently and plan to return to before too long – possibly with this very novel.

Back to Barbara with this one, the 1964 Collins first of Brian Cleeve's Vote X for Treason, although her work is marred somewhat by the Boots Library sticker (I'm too scared to peel it off having damaged other covers during previous such rescue attempts). Vote X for Treason is the first entry in Cleeve's Sean Ryan spy series, and Cleeve is another author I'll be returning to (same caveat as Berkely Mather applies; I first teased a Cleeve appearance over a year ago) – as is the writer of this final book:

Count Not the Cost by Ian Mackintosh, published by Robert Hale in 1967, dust jacket design again by Barbara Walton. This is an ex-library copy – from the City of London Police Library, no less:

But all five of the novels Mackintosh wrote from 1966 to 1970 (not including a later novelisation) are so scarce, any copy is to be treasured. As to why they're so scarce, that's the combined consequence of each of them only ever having one printing and the level of interest in Mackintosh, a cult figure best known for his TV work – he created and wrote the BBC TV series Warship and the ITV espionage series The Sandbaggers – and for the fact that he disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1979. All of which, I feel is definitely worthy of further investigation – and it so happens I'll shortly have the means to do just that.