Tuesday 3 March 2015

Patricia Highsmith's The Man Who Wrote Books in His Head: Signed Inscribed Edition (Eurographica, 1986)

NB: Included in Friday's Forgotten Books, 6/3/15.

Much as I love a beautiful dust jacket (especially a British one dating from, say, the 1950s or the 1960s), sometimes the most extraordinary of books come in the plainest of wrappers. Like this one:

The Man Who Wrote Books in His Head and Other Stories by Patricia Highsmith, published by Eurographica of Helsinki, Finland (or Helsinki, Sweden, as newsreader Harvey Johnson has it in Die Hard), in 1986 as part of their Mystery and Spy Authors in Signed Limited Editions series (number four in that series, to be precise). Printed, as noted in the back of the book, "by Tipografia Nobili, established in Pesaro in 1823, on special Michelangelo paper made at the Magnani Paper Mills in Pescia, Italy" – and suitably and pleasingly thick and rough and deckled that paper is too – it was limited to 350 numbered copies signed by Highsmith, with "20 additional copies printed for the personal use of the author". This is one of those 20 additional copies:

Which Highsmith inscribed to a Catherine Schelbert – who may well be the translator Catherine Schelbert – in March 1990. A handful of copies of the signed and numbered run of The Man Who Wrote Books in His Head can be found on AbeBooks (for upwards of £100) – as can a similar number of Where the Action Is and Other Stories, a second limited edition of Highsmith tales published by Eurographica in 1989 – but I can't see any other copies of the "personal use" run, so this one is quite a rare item, and as such nice addition to my steadily growing collection of signed and inscribed Highsmith books (see here, here, here and here).

The four stories in The Man Who Wrote Books in His Head are taken from the 1979 collection Slowly, Slowly in the Wind, although three, "Something You Have to Live With", "Slowly, Slowly in the Wind" itself and "A Curious Suicide", were first published earlier than that, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine ("A Curious Suicide" as "Who Lives, Who Dies?"). The best by far is the title story, in which Highsmith drily demonstrates, using the case of one E. Taylor Cheever, that one needn't go to the bother of actually writing any novels in order to become a celebrated novelist – a finding which, for myself, having attempted on more than one occasion to write a novel only to discover that my talents – if indeed any exist – almost certainly lie elsewhere, is music to the ears.

The other three stories are all very good too, though – the macabre and mildly gruesome "Slowly, Slowly in the Wind", with its wonderfully original method of disposing of a body, in an obvious sort of way, "Something You Have to Live With" and "A Curious Suicide" working a more subtle magic, both dealing with the lingering aftereffects of killing; "A Curious Suicide" in particular comes off like a condensed Highsmith novel, complete with a murderer who gets away with it almost in spite of himself. All of which leads me to suspect that the rest of Slowly, Slowly in the Wind will be well worth reading too – so it's a good job I have a first edition of that collection, which I'll doubtless be blogging about down the line, and adding to the Existential Ennui Patricia Highsmith First Edition Book Cover Gallery, where I've deposited The Man Who Wrote Books in His Head (under "Patriciaphernalia"). And I'll be blogging about another signed and inscribed Highsmith book before too long as well – a very special association copy of a Tom Ripley novel, no less.