Patricia Highsmith book covers

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Penguin, 1980; photo by David Thorpe.

A post for Patricia Highsmith, born 100 years ago today. Filling the cover of one of Highsmith’s books with a photograph of a snail may seem like a bizarre or even perverse decision but Eleven is a collection of short stories, two of which concern the author’s beloved gastropods. The snails in The Snail-Watcher and The Quest for ‘Blank Claveringi’ aren’t so lovable, however, and both stories make frequent appearances in horror collections. The Quest for ‘Blank Claveringi’ was even the lead story in The 6th Fontana Book of Great Horror Stories, prompting another snail cover.

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left: First UK edition, Cresset Press, 1957; no artist credited. Right: Pan, 1960; cover art by David Tayler.

Highsmith’s enduring popularity means that most of her books have remained in print since their initial publication so there are many covers to look at. They’re a very mixed bag, as is often the case with thrillers where two design approaches predominate: symbolism that can either be vague or suggestive, or some kind of illustration which always runs the risk of spoiling the story. Nick Jones’ Existential Ennui blog contains a number of posts about Highsmith’s books, including this one which shows off his collection of first editions. I was surprised to see the bland cover for the original UK publication of The Talented Mr Ripley, an illustration that would suit any number of stories set on the Mediterranean coastline, and which gives no indication of the tangled web of deceit and murder inside the book. Perhaps this is a good thing but it feels like a missed opportunity. Another of Jones’ posts concerns Highsmith paperbacks, and here we see the spoilerish approach with the same novel featuring a painting that shows Ripley pushing Dickie Greenleaf’s body into the sea. This was common form for thriller paperbacks at the time: “Yes, there’s murder in this one!” My 1966 Pan paperback of Deep Water features a similar scene of body disposal (which rather spoiled the story while I was reading it) but it also has the following photo of the author on the back, looking as though she’s wondering how to dispose of your body when the time comes.

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Pan, 1966; photo by Jerry Bauer. Also another book that features snails.

More recent Highsmith covers have tended towards the vague and symbolic, as seen in this blog post by Caustic Cover Critic. I’ve got several of those editions with the sketchy Vintage covers which I don’t like very much, most of them could too easily be applied to another book entirely. The same could be said for the Norton collection of the Ripley novels (below) which go the ultra-minimal route and reduce the contents of each book to a single motif. Individually these motifs might be used elsewhere but taken as a set they become unique. Choosing a high-heeled shoe for The Boy Who Followed Ripley is both funny and fitting but I won’t spoil the story by saying why.

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Design by Chin-Yee Li.

A handful of Highsmith links:
Mavis Nicholson interviews Patricia Highsmith for Good Afternoon in 1978. From those far-off days when British television didn’t regard intelligent discussion as audience poison.
• “The interview was full of drama, as I suspected it might be.” Naim Attalah’s interview from 1993.
10 Best Patricia Highsmith Books as chosen by the author’s biographer, Joan Schenkar.
Patricia Highsmith’s Confessions and Rebellions at Yaddo by Richard Bradford.
The Patricia Highsmith Recommendation Engine.
Patricia Highsmith on Desert Island Discs, 1979.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

Saint Genet

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Miracle of the Rose (1965). Photo by Jerry Bauer, design by Kuhlman Associates.

[William Burroughs is] without a doubt…the greatest American writer since WWII. There are very, very few writers in his class; I think Genet is about the only one whom I’d put in the same category. All the British and American writers so heavily touted—the Styrons and the Mailers and their English equivalents—it’s just not necessary to read anybody except William Burroughs and Genet.

JG Ballard, RE/Search interview, 1984.

Jean Genet (the “Saint” was a gift from Jean-Paul Sartre) was born on December 19th, 1910 so consider this a late centenary post. Some of Ballard’s debt to William Burroughs can be found in writings such as The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) and his early text experiments. Genet’s influence, if we have to look for such a thing, I usually see in the use of metaphor to transform an uncompromising reality. Like the moment at the beginning of Crash (1973) when the crushed bodies of package tourists are compared to “a haemorrhage of the sun”. Genet’s writings effected similar transformations from squalid prison environments, turning the sexual assignations and passions of the inmates into ceremonial acts which assume the lineaments of a new religion. He used to claim in later life to have forgotten all his works but we haven’t forgotten him. A small selection of Genet links follows.

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Esquire, November 1968.

RealityStudio:

Burroughs’ most famous and most widely read piece for Esquire remains his coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, “The Coming of the Purple Better One,” which was included in Exterminator! Burroughs was hired to cover the convention along with Terry Southern, who was a pioneer in New Journalism with his “Twirling at Ole Miss” (which appeared in Esquire in February 1963), John Sack, who wrote on the experiences of Company M in Vietnam for Esquire (with the legendary cover “Oh my God — We hit a little girl”), and Jean Genet, an authority on oppression who turned increasingly politically active after the events in Europe in May 1968. (Continues here.)

Ubuweb:
Un Chant d’Amour (1950): Genet’s short homoerotic drama which he later disowned. The film’s masturbating prisoners and naked male flesh made it notorious and, for later generations of filmmakers, a pioneering and influential work.
Le condamné à mort (1952): A reading of Genet’s poem (in French) with electroacoustic accompaniment.
Ecce Homo (1989): A short film by Jerry Tartaglia which cuts scenes from Un Chant d’Amour with gay porn.

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Bibliothèque Gay:
Vingt lithographies pour un livre que j’ai lu, Jean Genet, Roland Caillaux, 1945. A sequence of twenty pornographic drawings.

YouTube:
The Maids (1975): Glenda Jackson and Susannah York in a film by Christopher Miles based on Genet’s play. There’s also Fassbinder’s Querelle (1982) but YouTube’s limitations don’t do it any favours.
Jean Genet (1985): an extract from the BBC interview where the writer makes a fool of interviewer Nigel Williams. This captured Genet a few months before his death and he remains the stubborn outsider to the last, questioning the conventions of the television interview which he compares to a police interrogation. A transcript of the whole fascinating event can be found here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Emil Cadoo
Penguin Labyrinths and the Thief’s Journal
Un Chant D’Amour by Jean Genet