Hypnotic Read

“Almost unputdownable. Miss Highsmith writes about men like a spider
writing about flies.”
The Observer

Still reeling from The Blunderer, a mystery by Patricia Highsmith. It’s my reading group’s next selection and I, for better or worse, picked it up this evening — and found it totally “unputdownable.” Dark and sinister as it proved to be, Patricia is an amazing writer. She’s best known for The Talented Mr. Ripley series, and after reading The Blunderer, I can only imagine what its main character must be like. No, wait — I don’t think I want to imagine it!

Wow! Having just motored my way through three-quarters of a hypnotically riveting novel in a matter of hours, I’ve been pondering just exactly how the talented Miss Highsmith managed to hook and reel me in. Here are some first impressions:

• She begins with an ordinary suburban setting and a seemingly ordinary couple with serious marital problems. The husband’s a lawyer and the wife’s a real estate agent. So the story is grounded in a very realistic and predictable scenario, which then veers off darkly.

• She conjures up a brittle, unlikable, neurotic and demanding wife, who browbeats her hapless, unhappy husband. By constructing an extremely unpleasant foil to the protagonist — the husband — Highsmith enlists our sympathy for him from the opening pages. We feel sorry for the schlub and find the affair he embarks on totally understandable — we even wish him well.

• She sets us up: When the poor protagonist begins to make one blunder after another, with Highsmith’s artful guidance, we see them coming. We want to warn him again and again, “No, don’t do it!” It’s hard to tell whether the guy is really a dummy or if he’s just blindly making one dumb mistake after another — an intriguing reader dilemma.

• She creates not one, but two, malevolent figures. Like two grinding stones, between them, they crush the poor protagonist to smithereens. Highsmith’s evil twins — one a policeman and the other a murderer — are very compelling and believable, which makes them all the more sinister.

What a fascinating read! I’m sure there’s a lot to be learned from it. Always so interesting to analyze what makes a page turner tick as we all write on.


About karinwritesdangerously

I am a writer and this is a motivational blog designed to help both writers and aspiring writers to push to the next level. Key themes are peak performance, passion, overcoming writing roadblocks, juicing up your creativity, and the joys of writing.
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2 Responses to Hypnotic Read

  1. Toby says:

    I just traded in a Forties compendium of novels by women mystery writers for a Fifties one–which has this novel in it. What amazes me in the most positive way is that in the Forties there was virtually no explicit sex in any of these novels. But the novels are all the sexier for it. An old lesson, happily observed again. And scariness is often more subtle, too. Have not yet read these four, but am looking forward to it. Recently read a T. Jefferson Parker early novel (mid-Nineties)–and was blown away. Could be about today–or tomorrow. Our worst problems. In a riveting thriller.
    Boy, it’s fun to be a reader right now. (As long as you don’t read what’s on the current best-seller list.) Read on, lady.

  2. Hi Toby,

    Thanks so much for your note and for sharing your reading
    enthusiasms. I totally agree that subtlety often engenders
    curiosity and can be much more powerful than sledgehammer
    prose. I would love to hear what you think of “The Blunderer”
    especially as it compares to the forties novels you’ve just
    read. While I’m not a mystery buff, Highsmith really grabbed
    my attention — very psychologically astute!

    Read on and write on,

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