Monday, December 7, 2009

The evil inside of us

I've been a fan of Patricia Highsmith ever since I read her Ripley novels. The Talented Mr. Ripley is still, in my own opinion, her best work, but the other Ripley novels are good too. (If you think the movie was great, well you're in for a treat if you read the novel. The characters are darker and less likable than the ones in the movie.) There's something about the novels of Highsmith that reminds you that there is evil inside all of us, and that some people more inclined to let loose their evil streak.

A Game for the Living, a non-Ripley novels, has all Highsmith's trademark of mystery and suspense. Leila Ballesteros, an artist, is found brutally murdered and raped in her apartment in Mexico by one of her lovers, Theodore Schiebelhut. Theodore immediately suspects Ramon Otero, his rival in his affections for Leila. Ramon eventually confesses to the murder, but his confession is soon dismissed as coming from a person who's lost his mind. Both men eventually develop a closer friendship as they find out who killed their beloved Leila.

Highsmith provides an excellent study in contrasts in the characters of Theodore and Ramon. Theodore is rich and a foreigner, one who feels like a fish out of water amidst Mexico's local color. Ramon is a local, a poor furniture maker. Theodore is rational and calculating; Ramon is brash and too emotional, often acting on his impulses. Throughout the novel, one can see how these characters complement each other, providing a balance in Highsmith's dark and slow-building narrative.

A Game for the Living isn't a page turner though. Highsmith chooses to focus on the relationship between Theodore and Ramon rather than the murder itself. The murder happens in the first few pages, while the rest of the novel delves on the slow decline of Ramon and the ever increasing paranoia of Theodore. The result is a superbly atmospheric novel about what men do when a person they love is taken away from them unexpectedly.

Read this book if:
  1. You're craving for a well-written mystery.
  2. You love the Ripley novels.
  3. You've had enough cheery novels lately.


Anonymous said...

oh wow, I didn't know you were a Highsmith fan! I love Highsmith although not all her novels are good. The Ripley ones are excellent though and the Talented Mr. Ripley is one of my favourite films. I love anything directed by Minghella

Peter S. said...

Hi, Mrs. B! I love Minghella too!

Anonymous said...

I must give Highsmith a go I have yet to read any of her books and have Carol and Strangers on a Train on my TBR, I have a feeling I will enjoy her work a lot!

Anonymous said...

I have The Talented Mr. Ripley in my TBR... I've been meaning to read it! Hopefully I will soon.

Vivienne said...

I didn't realise that there were a series of books about Ripley. I haven't even watched the film, but hope to soon. I shall look out for this.

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, I'm craving cheery novels lately and listening to too many Christmas songs. Once I OD on cheerfulness, I might give Highsmith a try.

Peter S. said...

@savidgereads: Simon, you will surely love her! Perhaps when you take a break from all the sensational novels. Hehehe.

@Sumthinblue: What?! You haven't read The Talented Mr. Ripley! You should!

@Viviene: Yes, I think there are 5 Ripley books.

@StephanieD: Highsmith isn't cheery, so get your cheerfulness OD first.

caite said...

if you are a Highsmith fan, there is an interesting review of a biography of her, The Talented Miss Highsmith
by Joan Schenkar, in the Wall Street Journal that you might like to read.