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

Weekend links 551

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Bystander #16 (2016) by Mari Katayama.

• “In her prickly, misanthropic stories, her obsession with obsession is on display, big feelings and bad habits redirected to gruesome ends.” Carmen Maria Machado on the brilliance, difficulty and eccentricities of Patricia Highsmith who was born on 19th January, 1921. This reminds me that I have an unread copy of Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January that I ought to move to the reading pile.

Saint Laurent—Summer of ’21: Gaspar Noé’s new promo for the fashion house features Charlotte Rampling and a group of models in a vaguely Argento-like scenario that’s all crimson light, sumptuous decor and a creditable cover of I Feel Love by SebastiAn.

• I’ve been listening to a lot of Magma recently so this is timely: all three of the live Retrospektïw albums from 1980 gathered together for the first time in a single package and with a bonus recording.

• At Spine: Vyki Hendy collects some recent book covers that use optical illusions (or negative space) to catch the attention. Tangentially related: William Hogarth’s Satire on False Perspective (1754).

• RIP David Larkin, art director at Granada and Pan who also edited one of my favourite series of art books.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Crop Encircled Boy presents…Alejandro Jodorowsky Day.

• Mix of the week: Subterraneans 1, a Bowie mix by The Ephemeral Man.

• At Wormwoodiana: A Secret Book of Ghost Stories.

• “Reality is plasticine,” says Eloghosa Osunde.

Cats On Synthesizers In Space

Subterraneans (1993) by Philip Glass | The Subterranean (1994) by Soma | Subterranean Lakes (2018) by Pye Corner Audio

Weekend links 523

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One of Ian Miller‘s drawings from the illustrated edition of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, 1979.

• “I always said we were kind of an electronic punk band, really. We were never New Romantics, I don’t like it when we get lumped in with that.” Dave Ball of Soft Cell and The Grid talking to Duncan Seaman about his autobiography, Electronic Boy: My Life In and Out of Soft Cell. I’ll now be waiting impatiently for the unreleased Robert Fripp/Grid album to appear.

• “[Patricia] Highsmith’s writing—often eviscerating, always uncomfortable—has never been more relevant,” says Sarah Hilary.

• Ron Peck’s debut feature, Nighthawks (1978), is “a nuanced look at gay life in London,” says Melissa Anderson.

And then there are those figures who seem to flit around the edges of movements without ever being fully involved in any of them, who pursue their own eccentric paths no matter what is going on around them. These are the writers who make up the secret history of literature, the hidden history that’s not easily reduced to movements or trends, and who always waver on the verge of invisibility until you stumble by accident onto one of their books and realize how good they actually are, and wonder, Why wasn’t I told to read this before? But of course you already know the answer: You were not told because it doesn’t fit smoothly into the story those in authority made up about what literature is—it disrupts, it can’t be reduced to the literary equivalent of a meme.

That’s the kind of writer Pierre Klossowski (1905–2001) is. He is not a joiner. He has his own particular and often peculiar concerns, and pursues them. He does not particularly welcome you in. The content of his writing, too, has the feel of a gnostic text, as if you are reading something that, if only you were properly initiated, you would understand in a different way. In that sense his work has an esoteric or occult quality to it—and likewise in the sense that it returns again and again to the intersection of religion and pornography, the sacred and the profane.

Brian Evenson on The Suspended Vocation by Pierre Klossowski

• Chad Van Gaalen creates a psychedelic animation for Seductive Fantasy by the Sun Ra Arkestra.

• More sneak peeks from the forthcoming The Art Of The Occult by S. Elizabeth.

• More Robert Fripp: Richard Metzger on Fripp’s sui generis solo album, Exposure.

Pamela Hutchinson on the pleasures of David Lynch’s YouTube channel.

• Mix of the week: a second Jon Hassell tribute mix by Dave Maier.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ferdinand presents…Dark Entries Day.

15 fascinating art documentaries to watch now.

Soft Power by Patten.

• RIP Milton Glaser.

hauntología

Aquarium (1992) by The Grid (with Robert Fripp) | Soft Power (2005) by Ladytron | The Martian Chronicles (2007) by Dimension X

Weekend links 313

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The Sullen Son (1921) by Rose O’Neill from her Sweet Monsters series (also here).

10 hours of Popcorn (1972) by Hot Butter. Related (and linked here before) 79 different versions of Gershon Kingsley’s original. If that’s not enough, there’s at least 100 more out there.

• Mixes of the week: Touristica Mystica Sigillistica by Gregg Hermetech, FACT Mix 554 by The Body, and Secret Thirteen Mix 187 by Dalhous.

• Another electronic cover version: Trans Europe Express by Cobby & Mallinder.

In the 1950s people like Pierre Schaeffer and John Cage were saying: “But there are all these sounds in the world, and if you listen to them carefully enough you will hear the music that they speak.” This immediately opened up a new world; it’s enriching once you’ve educated your ear to that, because when you’re annoyed by the sound of the street you can make music out of it. You can make music out of almost everything!

Eliane Radigue discussing her career with Paul Schütze

Patricia Highsmith’s Snail Obsession and Two Weird Tales of Monstrous Mollusks.

Youth and Alex Patterson remember the making of Little Fluffy Clouds by The Orb.

Strange Flowers pursues Sheila Legge and other Phantoms of Surrealism.

• Revealed: Cambodia’s vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle.

Alan Moore describes the cover of epic novel Jerusalem.

Ashgabat: the city of the living and the city of the dead.

• In praise of the tram by Christian Wolmar.

Taxidermists at DC’s

Brian The Snail (1982) by Pigbag | Slow Loris Versus Poison Snail (1996) by David Toop & Jon Hassell | Popcorn (2000) by Gershon Kingsley

Weekend links 311

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Sphinx (2015) by Lupe Vasconcelos.

• I’ve been reading my way through Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels for the past couple of weeks, and may well progress to some of her other books once I’m finished. Highsmith had a long career so there’s a lot to read on the web. Catching my eye this week were 10 Best Patricia Highsmith Books recommended by her biographer, Joan Schenkar; The Patricia Highsmith Recommendation Engine; Highsmith on Desert Island Discs in 1979 (the book she said she’d take, Moby-Dick, is the same one chosen by JG Ballard, albeit for different reasons); and a prickly interview late in her life with Naim Attalah.

Discovering 20th-century literature: books, manuscripts and other documents in the collection of the British Library.

• Signed copies of Paul Gorman’s Barney Bubbles monograph, Reasons To Be Cheerful, may be ordered from the author.

• How a mysterious ghost ship brought cosmic disco to Cape Verde. Related: Quirino Do Canto by Mino Di Mama.

• Zombi drummer AE Paterra and composer Paul Lawler make prog-synth epics as Contact.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 185, a locked-groove mix by Massimo Carozzi.

• In London next weekend: Alchemy and Magic at Brompton Cemetery.

Die or DIY?: scarcities from the post-punk outer limits.

• More Penda’s Fen: a lengthy appraisal by Jerry Whyte.

Dennis Cooper salutes James Coburn

Bandcamp is good for musicians.

Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly art.

• This Heat: Rimp Ramp Romp (1977) | 24 Track Loop (1979) | Health And Efficiency (1980) | Makeshift Swahili (1981)