Nothing That Meets the Eye

nothing that meets the eyeI read Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels (there are five of them, starting with The Talented Mr. Ripley, and they go by the collective name of the Ripliad) years and years ago, before I started this blog. Ever since, I’ve wanted to read more of her books. She was never as popular in the United States as she was in Europe (why?), but it should be perfectly possible to get copies of her other works. So when I saw Nothing That Meets the Eye, this book of her uncollected short stories, on the shelf at the library, I jumped at the chance. Highsmith wrote a lot of short stories and published eight collections during her lifetime. These are just the ones she didn’t consider good enough to make the cut of a collection (but good enough not to destroy.) They’re well-chosen by Norton and a pleasure to read.

If you’ve read any of the Ripley novels or Strangers on a Train, you might know what to expect from a lot of these excellent stories. While there is a variety, many of them are thrillers: mysterious, dark, suspenseful examinations of human psychology. Many of them — not most, by a long shot, but far more than I’d expect in any given collection — end in suicide. Some are about suspicion, others about affairs, others about not knowing what to believe or whom to trust, still others end with a twist. Many consider freedom or authority from an angle you might not expect. A couple — maybe the least successful — take place in Mexico; it’s clear Highsmith knew the country but was not overly sympathetic either to the people of Mexico or to the expatriates living there. Several stories are cheerful and optimistic, framings of unusual human kindness, but not one is sentimental. Fewer than I would expect are about women: the typical Highsmith protagonist seems to have been a man in his mid-thirties. I loved lots of them, but maybe especially “A Doorbell for Louisa,” “The Pianos of the Steinachs” and “A Bird in Hand” (that one especially for its portrait of a sort of Robin Hood of parakeets.)

I’m really glad I read this collection. It makes me want to read more of her novels, because the stories were consistently high-quality, insightful of human nature, and often interestingly dark. Besides the Ripley novels, I’ve only read The Blunderer so far. Have any of you read others of hers? Would you recommend any to begin with?

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10 Responses to Nothing That Meets the Eye

  1. Readerlane says:

    Patricia Highsmith wrote so much, but I’ve only read the first two Ripley novels and Strangers on a Train. So my recommendation would be Strangers on a Train ;), which was so well done it was hard to believe it was her first book. Plus the Hitchcock movie (not particularly faithful to the original, though).

    • Jenny says:

      She DID write so much! Like 17 novels besides the Ripley ones, and 8 collections of short stories, and even a kid’s book (can’t imagine what that would be like.) I like the idea of Strangers on a Train.

  2. Deb says:

    I’d like to recommend SMALL G, a very atypical Highsmith novel. In fact, it was so unlike Highsmith’s other work, her publisher rejected it and it was eventually published posthumously. It’s set in Switzerland (can’t remember what city—possibly Zurich?) and loosely revolves around a group of people who frequent a club/restaurant that caters primarily but not exclusively to gay clientele (designated with a lowercase rather than a capital G in the guidebooks). I enjoyed it…and sometimes it’s nice to read something that’s not typical of an author’s style.

    • Jenny says:

      That’s a very interesting premise! I’ve been thinking about reading The Price of Salt, which was famous for decades as being the first/ only lesbian novel with a happy ending. Of course it was recently made into a movie, too, which I enjoyed, and I’d like to read the novel it came from.

  3. I’ve read none of her books so far but I want to read AT LEAST Strangers on a Train. Do you think I’d like her books overall? I saw the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley and I really did not care for it because I wanted Commodore Norrington to be okay and Matt Damon straight-up killed him for no reason and it was so sad.

    • Jenny says:

      Huh, well, the Ripley novels are absolutely about a genial, likable sociopath with no remorse and no genuine emotion who kills people for no reason. So, maybe not those. And The Blunderer, you can read my review, but it’s a psychological thriller about a man who kills his wife and then makes a long string of bad choices. You really feel him getting painted into a smaller and smaller corner. And I think Strangers on a Train is likely to feel like that too. So…? They at least have a lot of plot and they are really well written!

  4. I’ve only read Strangers on a Train, which I liked very much! It’s a classic for a reason. I do want to read more of her novels and stories. I’m glad these were enjoyable!

    • Jenny says:

      I think of her in the same tier as Ruth Rendell, which is high praise. Creepy and consistently excellent. So I’d like to read more of her books to back that up!

  5. Teresa says:

    I liked The Glass Cell a lot, which is the only of her books I’ve read besides the first Ripley book, and I think you’d like it too. I keep meaning to read more.

  6. The Ripley novels are brilliant. I love that character.

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