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Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith Hardcover – July 15, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 534 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (July 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582341982
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582341989
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 2 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,050,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While British journalist Wilson's portrait of Highsmith (1921-1995) is neither graceful nor fluid, it is as haunting and as chilling as the stories and novels Highsmith crafted over more than 50 productive years. The author of Strangers on a Train and five novels featuring the amoral and murderous Tom Ripley, Highsmith achieved considerable critical acclaim in her native United States, but never sold well here. She was better received in Europe and that was where she made her home. The biographer's exhaustive attention to detail coupled with his access to Highsmith's journals (or "cahiers," as she called them) and letters, and extensive interviews with her friends, lovers and associates, allow him to reveal in excruciating detail this very private person. Highsmith emerges as a woman of great intelligence, candor and curiosity, but also as a racially prejudiced, anti-Semitic and insensitive boor. She was an acute observer capable of seizing a single incident and transforming it into a complex story. But she was unable to transform her own unhappy life. Instead she transmuted her troubles, her experiences, her observations into her work. One of her lovers observed, "If she hadn't had her work, she would have been sent to an insane asylum or an alcoholics' home.... She was her writing." Highsmith's work has had an important impact on both crime fiction and gay and lesbian fiction, and Wilson has impressively documented that as well as the tremendous cost Highsmith paid for her achievements. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

'A fascinating, beautifully balanced and meticulously researched biography, bringing us as close to understanding Highsmith as we are ever likely to get' Sunday Telegraph 'Wilson has delved with extraordinary diligence, and everything he has unearthed is remarkable' Mail on Sunday 'Excellent and outstandingly readable ... Brilliant and compelling' Daily Mail 'An exemplary biography of a tortured, difficult and outstandingly gifted human being' Sunday Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

An absolutely fascinating read, highly recommended if you're a fan of her writing.
Peter Jesperson
Highsmith's life was far from a happy one, in fact in many ways it could be charitably described as a disaster.
cameron-vale
This is a stunning biography -- well written, well researched (exhaustive) and well structured.
Mark Stevens

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 60 people found the following review helpful By cameron-vale on November 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Fans of Patricia Highsmith's dark and disturbing fiction will undoubtedly find Andrew Wilson's biography an absolutely fascinating if occasionally harrowing reading experience. Highsmith's life was far from a happy one, in fact in many ways it could be charitably described as a disaster. Wilson movingly details her sad, troubled childhood and adolescence during which Highsmith developed an obsession with gruesome death and decay that would haunt her short stories and novels. As an adult, her many sexual encounters always ended in unhappiness. With advancing age, Highsmith became ever more distrustful and ultimately hateful of humankind. Wilson portrays a supremely talented but cold-hearted, misanthropic woman who was eminently unlikeable, even downright detestable. (One of Highsmith's publishers describes her as "the most odious woman I've ever met.") All of this sadness and despair makes us understand and appreciate her disturbing creations all the more. In addition to providing us with a detailed glimpse into the strange life of one of the finest contemporary thriller writers, Wilson adds much to our appreciation of her art by providing concise and revealing analyses of her best works. So good is this exhaustive biography that once you've finished it you'll want to immediately pick up a copy of NOTHING THAT MEETS THE EYE (or any of the other currently available Highsmith collections) and renew your acquaintance with this excellent, morbidly captivating writer.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
"She was a weird, unkind, dissolute person." This is how her goddaughter remembers Patricia Highsmith, and after reading Andrew Wilson's biography, you may think so, too.

In Beautiful Shadow (a reference to the name of the fictional Ripley's home in France, Belle Ombre), Wilson follows Highsmith's life by following her writing, so by the end of the book, you'll have a long list of novels and stories to look for. He examines her influences, her relationships (romantic and otherwise), and her many quirks.

Highsmith was never very popular in the U.S., at least until the movie The Talented Mister Ripley, came out after her death. She was more successful in Europe, where fans even recognized her in the street. Perhaps this explains why she lived most of her adult life in Europe. She was never very comfortable anywhere, even in her own body, according to those who knew her, but she seemed less uncomfortable in Europe.

What sort of a mind comes up with the sort of strange, compelling stories that Highsmith wrote, with their amoral, yet sympathetic characters? Wilson goes a long way toward answering that question in this biography, but some questions remain unanswered, and maybe it's better that way.
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43 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is probably the most insightful, compulsively readable, scholarly biography I've ever read. It delves deep into the heart of the elusive, mysterious Patricia Highsmith and provides answers to all the most important questions. Where did Highsmith get her ideas from? How did she transform her life into art? What made her the woman she was?
It's obvious that I'm not the only one who thinks so. Paul Bailey in the Sunday Times (1 June, 2003) called it `exemplary' and a `triumph'. Craig Brown - who met Highsmith on a number of occasions - writes in the Mail on Sunday, 8 June 2003, that this is a `masterly, utterly absorbing biography...One of the many virtues of Wilson's biography is the seriousness with which he takes the novels, showing them to be deeply attuned to the strange rhythms of guilt, jealousy and fantasy that affect all of us in different ways.'
He also says: 'Now that she is dead, Wilson has delved with extraordinary diligence, and everything he has unearthed is remarkable.....'
The distinguished novelist PD James, in the Sunday Telegraph, 8 June, says this:
`Andrew Wilson's fascinating, beautifully balanced and meticulously researched biography examines the dark obsessions which gave rise to Ripley, telling us as much as we are ever likely to know about Highsmith the woman and bringing us as close to understanding the writer as we are ever likely to get.'
I can't imagine any other biographer getting as close to his subject as this. Don't wait for anything else. Buy this book - now.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mark Stevens VINE VOICE on July 5, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a stunning biography -- well written, well researched (exhaustive) and well structured. Patricia Highsmith helped Andrew Wilson by generating a detailed journal of her life but this biography uses that as a foundation, not the complete story. This is a terrific overview of one of the most under-rated crime / mystery / fiction writers of the century. Sure, Highsmith didn't always hit the mark. But she took chances, she probed her inner pscyhe, which was dark and tortured, and used it as a springboard for the over-arching point of view for her writing and for plotlines and characters. Any writer out there who is stuck for ideas, read this. Highsmith, it seemed, trained herself to dig deep into her imagination and subconcious for ideas -- at the same time as she consumed small newspaper tidbits and larger themes from the news to generate material. I had read all her major novels and a few of her short stories, but had no idea the pace she kept at producing fiction, particularly short stories. This biography is also an unflinching look at somebody who followed nobody else's model and who found a way to live as herself in a very uncomfortable world. I've never met (on page) anybody who was so productive and so self-destructive, who studied relationships in fiction and couldn't maintain one in private. I think Wilson's work here is masterful and represents a significant contribution to 20th century writing and authors.
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