Devils, Lusts and Strange Desires: hostile, compelling Patricia Highsmith biography

Biographer Richard Bradford bashes his admittedly awful subject with little empathy

Patricia Highsmith at home in Locarno, Switzerland 1987. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty

Patricia Highsmith at home in Locarno, Switzerland 1987. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty

Richard Bradford’s oddly disapproving, compelling new biography of the novelist Patricia Highsmith, born a hundred years ago in Texas, sets out to uncover the truth behind the image. Other biographers have admired her as the inventor of memorable characters such as the conspirators in Strangers on a Train or her amoral anti-hero Tom Ripley. Bradford gives us Patricia Highsmith the predator, arch-manipulator and sadist, whose characters’ worst attributes belong to their creator.

As a subject for a biography, Highsmith comes with a comet’s tail of paperwork, often generated by herself – diaries, letters, notebooks, manuscripts – and Bradford has made full use of this material. But alarm bells ring from the first line: “Leaving aside one’s personal opinions on her work, it has to be accepted that Patricia Mary Highsmith was an incomparable individual.”

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