Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith (Summer 2003) She was a lesbian who was alternately obsessive about and dismissive of most women; an unrepentant alcoholic who nonetheless produced nearly two dozen taut, disciplined… Biography Nonfiction Bloomsbury
Review

Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith (Summer 2003)

EW's GRADE
A

Details Writer: Andrew Wilson; Genres: Biography, Nonfiction; Publisher: Bloomsbury

She was a lesbian who was alternately obsessive about and dismissive of most women; an unrepentant alcoholic who nonetheless produced nearly two dozen taut, disciplined novels(most notably Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley);a profound misanthrope with a wide circle of friends; a tough Texan who could find a home only in Europe; and an artist who brought an acute understanding of the human mind to her fiction but was, in life, choked and tormented -- perhaps even driven mad -- by her own fury. Patricia Highsmith was, in short, a biographer's dream, and British journalist Wilson does her full justice in a stunningly researched and insightful account of her 74 years. Wilson doesn't stint on the Grand Guignol details of her life -- the secret language in which she spoke to her cats, or the fact that in middle age, her booze-seamed countenance caused waiters to mistake her for a man. But he never lets the grotesquerie undermine his argument that she is one of the 20th century's most important neglected writers. Without hyperbole or forced Freudianism, he finds enthralling connections between her troubled psyche and her frostily composed prose, helped by her copious diaries, notebooks, and letters. Sympathetic but unblinking, Shadow is an exciting milestone in the posthumous resurgence of an author who was a Ripleyesque enigma to her readers and herself.

Originally posted Jul 11, 2003 Published in issue #718 Jul 11, 2003 Order article reprints