Have You Read These 7 Authors?

Lászlo Krasznahorkai (1954-Present)

Among my friends, I am known for the obscurity of my reading choices. In fact, I even split with one of my old friends because he thought most of my reading was not sufficiently dogmatic in a Marxist sense. Of course, he read about eight books a year, while I typically read somewhere between 150 and 160. Call me ugly, call me fat, call me vicious even—but don’t attack my reading choices.

Here are seven authors whose work I have read this year who are relatively unknown even to more literate readers, but they are all excellent writers. And several of them have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

  • Ivo Andrić (1892-1975). Bosnian Serb.1921-1996) Nobel Prize. Most famous work: The Bridge on the Drina.
  • Nicolas Bouvier (1929-1998). Swiss. Travel writer. Most famous work: The Way of the World.
  • George Mackay Brown (1921-1996). Scottish from the Orkneys. Poet and fiction writer. Most famous work: Collected Poetry.
  • Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995). American. Mysteries. Most famous work: Strangers on a Train.
  • Lászlo Krasznahorkai (1954-Present). Hungarian. Novelist. Most famous work: The Melancholy of Resistance.
  • Patrick Modiano (1945-Present). French. Novelist. Nobel Prize. Most famous work: Pedigree.
  • Derek Walcott (1930-2017). Caribbean. Poet. Nobel Prize. Most famous work: Omeros.

If you recognize two or more of the above writers, you have my congratulations. I have read multiple works of five of the above. I plan to read more by Bouvier and Walcott in the coming six months.

The Poet of Apprehension

The Young Patricia Highsmith

She was a gorgeous Texan from Fort Worth who just happened to be perhaps the best woman mystery novelist of all time. Graham Greene called her “The Poet of Apprehension.” Her novels and stories were unusually dark, beginning with her first novel, Strangers on a Train (1950), which was turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) was depressed and preferred relationships with women. Eventually, the depression dragged her down and destroyed her good looks.

I have just finished reading her novel The Cry of the Owl (1962), one of her darkest novels. Robert, her hero, is a strange kind of asexual Peeping Tom who falls for a young woman by watching her prepare salads and entertain her boyfriend Greg. Things begin to develop dangerously when Jenny, the young woman, ends her relationship with Greg and begins to fall for Robert. There follow two murders, several attempted murders, a suicide, some incredibly sloppy police work, and encounters with the neighbors from hell.

When Greg teams up with Robert’s ex-wife Nickie, they both decide to make life difficult for Robert in every way possible, up to beating him up, wounding him, or killing him.

By the time I finished reading the novel about an hour ago, I began to understand that relationships can go bad at warp speed.

In addition to The Cry of the Owl, I have read the following Highsmith novels and collections, each of which I loved:

  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
  • A Game for the Living (1958)
  • A Suspension of Mercy (1965) – Released in the U.S. as The Story Teller
  • A Dog’s Ransom (1972)
  • Little Tales of Misogyny (1975)
  • The Black House (1981)

Fortunately, Highsmith was a fairly prolific writer, and I have only just begun to scratch the surface of her work.

“I Would Prefer Not To”

Mystery Writer Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995)

The words are those of Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener in his story of the same name. In that story, a clerical worker refuses outright to continue to do his work and pays the price for his obstinacy. In Patricia Highsmith’s A Suspension of Mercy, Bartleby is the last name of writer Sydney Bartleby, a man who is every bit as obtuse as Melville’s scrivener. He is married—not entirely happily—to Alicia Sneezum. They live in the English countryside, with Sydney trying to publish a novel and television scripts, and Alicia trying to paint abstracts. At one point they decide to split up for a while and maybe come together only when they had gotten the ya-yas out of their system.

So Alicia is put on a train at Ipswich, telling her husband to tell people she had gone to stay with her parents. Except, she doesn’t in fact tell her parents anything. In the meantime, Sydney plays with the idea of having his friends and neighbors suspect that he had murdered Alicia. He even rolls up an old carpet, imagining that he had hurled Alicia down a flight of stairs to her death and rolled the body into the carpet. He buries the carpet early one morning in a forest some distance from his cottage.

In the meantime, people keep calling Sydney asking to speak to Alicia. He tells them she is staying with her parents. When they call the parents, and find her not there, the suspicion arises that Sydney has murdered her. A neighbor had seen him struggle to load a heavy rolled carpet into his car.

Enter the police. Sydney leads them to the buried carpet, which they find minus the body of Alicia. That only makes the police more suspicious. They start digging other holes in the area to search for the body. Interestingly, Sydney finds Alicia, with her new inamorata whom she had met at a party, but he doesn’t alert her or, in fact, anybody. So the suspicions continue to mount.

Nasty. Nasty. Nasty. This is clearly a story by Patricia Highsmith, author of Strangers on a Train (1950) and The Talented Mr Ripley (1955). It is delightful how the mutual obstinacy of Sydney and Alicia lead to the police, the press, and the general public to assume the worst. At several points, Bartleby (or Alicia) could have short-circuited all this needless mountain of false news, but, like the original Bartleby, preferred NOT to.

This is without a doubt the most obstinate mystery ever written, and great fun withal.