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.