Eleven - Patricia Highsmith

She is a writer who has created a world of her own – a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger, with the head half turned over the shoulder, even with a certain reluctance, for these are cruel pleasures we are going to experience, until somewhere about the third chapter the frontier is closed behind us, we cannot retreat, we are doomed to live till the story’s end with another of her long series of wanted men.

Graham Greene hit the nail on the head with his observation about Highsmith’s stories. They are not comfortable, not predictable, not following the scripts of the ordinary.

As with all collections of short stories, some works are stronger than others. It is the same with Eleven. Adding to that, the collection starts off with the remarkably weird story of The Snail Watcher, and is followed by a handful of gripping stories full of suspense and, well, weirdness.

The second half of the collection is not quite as high on octane as the first half, but still shows Highsmith’s ability to write well-plotted stories.

The Snail Watcher – 5*
The Birds Poised to Fly – 4*
The Terrapin – 5* (This one was horrific, and yet, I loved it. Stay clear if you have issues with descriptions of food preparation that involves animals.)
When the Fleet was In at Mobile – 5* (Dark, dark, but quite moving.)
The Quest for Blank Claveringi – 5* (Awesome. Gotta love the idea of man-eating snails.)
The Cries of Love – 2*
Mrs Afton, Among Thy Green Braes – 3*
The Heroine – 3.5*
Another Bridge to Cross – 3.5*
The Barbarians – 4*
The Empty Bird House – 3*

Graham Greene called Highsmith “the poet of apprehension rather than fear”, and each one of these stories shows how he arrived at this conclusion. You just never know what to expect.


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