Friday, 26 April 2019

A toxic relationship

Deep Water In Deep Water Patricia Highsmith has created a truly toxic relationship. Vic Van Allen's courtship of his wife Melinda was "like breaking a wild horse", but after several years of marriage and the birth of a daughter, Trixie, "she was not attractive to him as a woman." The couple live separately in the same house, where Melinda invites her men-friends and gets drunk with them, and where Vic tends his herbs and snails.

On the surface Vic accepts his wife's extra-marital affairs with dispassion, but his actions portray a deeper rage. He is constantly looking to score petty points over Melinda. At friends' parties, he won't dance "simply because his wife liked to dance." At home he stays "up until four or five or even seven in the morning," simply because his wife's male guest "would have preferred him to retire and leave him alone" with her. It is truly a pernicious relationship.

Deep Water traces Vic's gradual breakdown and the explosive release of his bottled-up emotions. It's like watching a car approach a cliff edge, the driver ignoring the warning signs, the outcome inevitable.

Although I enjoyed the book, preferred Highsmith's earlier Strangers on a Train for its suspense. Deep Water's set-up was not entirely credible. Why on earth did Melinda stay with Vic? The most sensible and normal character is the six-year-old Trixie, but one wonders what will become of her with such toxic parents.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

A very satisfying ending

The Devotion of Suspect X By the end of Chapter Two of The Devotion of Suspect X, author Keigo Higashino has put the reader in the shoes of TV's Detective Columbo. It's an inverted detective story: we've seen a murder take place and we know who's committed it. Yasuko has killed her violent ex-husband Togashi. Neighbour Ishigami, a mathematical genius who keeps himself to himself has overheard the crime. He also happens to have a crush on Yasuko and offers to deal with the body and arrange things so that she will never be found guilty.

The remainder of the story follows Detective Kusanagi's investigation and the help he receives from his brilliant physicist friend Yukawa, aka Detective Galileo.

Ishigami's genius is to have created a mystery which appears to have logical answers, but which the detective's instinct tells him are wrong. I too kept thinking, there must be more to the story than meets the eye. Indeed, the clues are there, but they are well hidden and I didn't work it out before the reveal. A very satisfying ending.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

An elegant death

The Sweet Dove Died (Bello) When we first meet Leonora Eyre, she speaks with "mock humility," which tells you, in two words, what a self-centred creature this middle-aged, unmarried woman is. The Sweet Dove Died spans about a year of her life.

After successfully bidding for a Victorian book of flowers, Leonora becomes light-headed and is helped out of the auction room by Humphrey Boyce and his nephew James, antique dealers. The two men become rivals for the affection of Leonora, who clearly prefers James, but the friendship develops only because the young man is willing to play along with the woman's need to be assured of her elegance and dignity.

Everything seems to go well, until Ned, James's manipulative American friend enters their lives. He exposes the characters as they truly are, the "glitter of his personality making Leonora seem no more than an ageing overdressed woman, [-] and James and Humphrey a callow young man with his pompous uncle." They are all dislikable.

The secondary characters garner a lot more sympathy. Meg had her own problematic friendship with a younger, gay man and recognised "the need to accept people as they are and to love them whatever they did." Liz "loved cats more than people," and Phoebe, with her "raw outpouring of feelings" that made James "feel so guilty."

Leonora did not make friends of women. She regarded them as "a foil for herself, particularly if, as usually happened, they were less attractive and elegant than she was." Not a pleasant person.

It's the second of Barbara Pym's books I've read. There's more humour in Excellent Women and the protagonist, 30-year-old spinster Mildred Lathbury, is more likeable. In The Sweet Dove Died, Leonora might be what Mildred would become, an older, menopausal spinster who has spent her days in splendid, narcissistic isolation. Its darkly humourous treatment of aging and death is somewhat comparable to Muriel Spark's Memento Mori. Leonora believed "there was no reason why one's death should not, in its own way, be as elegant as one's life, and one would do everything possible to make it so." It seems rather sad to dismiss other ways of living a full life for such a superficial concept.