Friday, 1 May 2015

Forgotten Book - Those Who Walk Away

Those Who Walk Away is a Patricia Highsmith novel from 1967, which shares some themes with her earlier book, The Blunderer. I happened to read the two novels in quick succession while away on holiday, and so the similarities were quite noticeable. I'll have more to say about The Blunderer on another day, but overall, I feel that Those Who Walk Away is slightly the stronger of the two books.

One reason is that the book gains significantly from its setting, in Venice. Venice is such a strange, beautiful, mysterious city that one can readily believe anything can happen there. That's why I chose it as the setting for "The Bookbinder's Apprentice", possibly the short story of mine that has enjoyed most success; it's not a story that could really have been set anywhere else. And the labyrinthine nature of the city makes it ideal as a backdrop for the cat and mouse game that is at the heart of Those Who Walk Away.

In fact, the story opens in Rome. Ray Garrett's wife Peggy has recently committed suicide, and her doting and sometimes doltish father Ed Coleman holds Ray responsible. We never learn very much about Peggy, and no grand surprise about her death is withheld until the end of the story - this isn't a puzzle mystery, but a book about the mysteries of human nature. Coleman shoots Ray, and although Ray survives, he doesn't report the incident to the police. Rather, he follows Coleman to Venice, and tries to reason with him.

The difficulty with Ray (and it's a difficulty I have with many of Highsmith's protagonists) is that the tendency to scream at them Don't be so stupid! is at times overwhelming .To enjoy the books, one has to accept certain premises, and to suspend disbelief - sometimes from a great height! Readers who can manage this will enjoy the book as, with some reservations, I did. However, I suspect that by the time she wrote this novel, Highsmith was coming to realise that she could not successfully play the same games with different protagonists in her novels time and time again, and I think that may help to explain the subsequent trajectory of her career, and her increasing focus on Tom Ripley and on short stories.


harriet said...

I read this recently and did enjoy it, perhaps more than you did, though I absolutely see what you mean about your quibbles. Highsmith is a strange and fascinating writer and I'm always surprised by her. Lovely.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Martin, I have not read Patricia Highsmith but after reading a few reviews of her novels, I get the impression that she is not an easy author to read. Of course, I could be wrong.