Tuesday 17 January 2017

The Snail-Watcher and Other Stories by Patricia Highsmith: Signed First Edition

Two years ago I wrote about Graham Greene, Patricia Highsmith and Eleven, Highsmith's first collection of short stories, published by Heinemann in 1970. I hadn't expected to return to Eleven; as well as exploring in that post Highsmith and Greene's mutual admiration and the foreword he wrote for the book, I also reviewed the best stories contained therein, so there wasn't really much more I could have added. But then I went and bought this:

the American first edition of the collection, published by Doubleday in 1970 under the title The Snail-Watcher and Other Stories, with a dust jacket designed by Tim Lewis, and, well, here we are. There are no significant differences between the Heinemann and Doubleday editions – both contain the same eleven short stories; both boast the Graham Greene foreword (although it's titled 'Introduction' in the American edition) – so there's no excuse, really, for my buying the US first edition when I already owned the UK first edition... except that this copy of the US first edition is signed:

Curiously, it's also an ex-library copy, liberated from, according to the indented stamp on the title page, the Westbrook Memorial Library in Maine (I think; it's hard to make out and the library docket that was affixed to the rear endpaper has been removed). I'm guessing that's the Walker Memorial Library. The signature looks genuine to me, but I am intrigued as to the circumstances by which Highsmith signed a library book. Was it signed after it was removed from the library? Or while it resided in the library, during a reading or event of some kind – or perhaps even covertly during an incognito visit by Highsmith...? I don't suppose I'll ever know.

At least, that's what I figured when I first posted this. But then an hour or two later Book Glutton emailed me and drew my attention to this 2015 obituary for Bonny Muir. As Book Glutton noted, Muir was a good friend of Patricia Highsmith's who at one time lived in Portland, Maine, not far from Westbrook. An avid user of the South Portland Library, it's conceivable Muir frequented the Walker Memorial Library too, and that she acquired this copy of The Snail-Watcher there and got Highsmith to sign it at a later date. Then, when Muir died, her books were sold. Conjecture, of course, but it's plausible, and certainly excellent detective work on the part of Book Glutton.

Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 20/1/17.


  1. The title story is one of the creepiest I have ever read.

  2. And my guess would've been a signed copy was donated to the library, but who knows?

    "The Snail Watcher" certainly the best-remembered story ever published by GAMMA, the magazine of the "Little Bradburys" crowd in LA, despite not actually being either sf or horror. THE SATURDAY EVENING POST and EQMM presumably rejected it, though the POST would publish a more fanciful story from her about giant snails, later.