|UK Edition (Heinemann, 1969)|
Perhaps the most subtle and insidious of her novels The Tremor of Forgery is unusual in how it incorporates criminal behavior into its supposedly simple plot. There are burglaries, thefts, attacks on a dog, one violent death most definitely a murder, and another possible murder. Though crime is present it is a shadow world of ambiguous and puzzling events; mixed perceptions and eyewitness accounts contradict one another throughout the action. We never know whose viewpoint we are to believe -- even that of our ostensibly innocent hero.
Yet crime is not Highsmith's primary concern here. This novel is a study in cultural and political disparity and their effect on visiting long term residents in a foreign country. It is also, strangely, something of a treatise on love. Besides The Price of Salt, I have never encountered in a Highsmith novel more discussions about love in all its forms, from platonic friendship to erotic desire, than I have in The Tremor of Forgery.
|US Edition (Doubleday, 1969)|
Ingham is in Tunisia at the request of a film director friend who has commissioned the writer to pen the screenplay of a movie he wants to set in Tunisia. But the screenplay is soon abandoned when the director dies suddenly under suspicious circumstances. Ina, Howard Ingham's one time lover, eventually communicates with him via letter to explain the sudden death in a roundabout and vague way. Ingham can't decide whether to return home or remain in Tunisia largely due to the curious and sporadic letters he receives from Ina. Each time he writes he pours out his love to her, but she takes her sweet time replying to his letters. She must be prodded to tell the whole story of John Castlewood's death after Ingham's repeated urgings. One begins to suspect that Ina is complicit in what at first is described as an accident and then a suicide.
In the meantime Ingham toils away on his typewriter turning out page after page of his novel about the duplicitous banker. He is befriended by two men. The first is the overly friendly Francis Adams whose sunny personality masks a political and religious zealotry that will reveal him to be a bigot of the worst sort. The other is the artist Anders Jensen visiting from his native Denmark and making the most of his penchant for sleeping with Arab boys while attempting to bed Howard as well. Jensen has a dog named Hasso that will also play an important part in the story. Jensen tells stories of some attacks of cruelty on Hasso and when the dog suddenly goes missing he fears the worst.
A younger and happier Patricia Highsmith
The novel unfolds at what some might call a glacial pace. But it is fitting for this languorous story of developing friendships, reconnections, epiphanies and -- yes -- contentment and happiness found at long last. In the final pages Highsmith has a few surprises in store, some of which have been called ambiguous by other reviewers and critics. On closer reading of the subtle clues she drops the unanswered questions all become clearer. The mysterious disappearance of the Arabian thief is suddenly not so mysterious and Ingham may not be the bad man he thinks himself to be. He ends up leaving Tunisia with one final letter in hand, overdue from seemingly endless forwarding, that leads me to believe that he will go on to find the love he had been searching for throughout the book.