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Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith [Paperback]

Andrew Wilson
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 May 2004
Patricia Highsmith - author of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY - had more than her fair share of secrets. During her life, she felt uncomfortable about discussing the source of her fiction and refused to answer questions about her private life. Yet after her death in February 1995, Highsmith left behind a vast archive of personal documents - diaries, notebooks and letters - which detail the links between her life and her work. Drawing on these intimate papers, together with material gleaned from her closest friends and lovers, Andrew Wilson has written the first biography of an author described by Graham Greene as the 'poet of apprehension'. Wilson illuminates the dark corners of Highsmith's life, casts light on mysteries of the creative process and reveals the secrets that the writer chose to keep hidden until after her death.

Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (3 May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747568553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747568551
  • Product Dimensions: 18.8 x 13 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 666,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


‘A fascinating, beautifully balanced and meticulously researched biography’ -- Sunday Telegraph

‘An exemplary biography … Wilson has fashioned a biography that does complete justice to her uneasy spirit’ -- Sunday Times

‘Excellent and outstandingly readable … Brilliant and compelling’ -- Daily Mail

‘Wilson has chosen a wonderful subject and written an excellent book … Brilliant’ -- Scotland on Sunday

‘Wilson has delved with extraordinary diligence, and everything he has unearthed is remarkable’ -- Mail on Sunday

From the Back Cover

Throughout her life she would find herself drawn to a number of women whom she could use as muses, women who have here talked about Highsmith for the first time. Yet the fantasy love affair – a relationship conducted within the confines of the imagination – was always more alluring than the reality and as a result the only lasting happiness Highsmith experienced came through her work.

Drawing on Highsmith’s voluminous personal papers, and the testimonies of her closest friends, Andrew Wilson has written the first biography of the author described by Graham Greene as ‘the poet of apprehension’ and by Gore Vidal as ‘one of our greatest modernist writers’. In this biography he illuminates the dark corners of Highsmith’s life, casts light on the mysteries of the creative process and reveals the secrets that the writer chose to keep hidden until after her death. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a beautiful shadow 15 July 2003
By A Customer
As a long-term fan of Patricia Highsmith's dark prose I was delighted to read Andrew Wilson's accomplished biography. He has painted a full and fascinating picture of the author - her singular interests, upbringing, loves, influences and tragedies using her work itself, diaries and interviews with many of those closest to her. What emerges is a life and personality that is as ambiguous as her hero and favourite creation Tom Ripley. This is the perfect biography for anyone who has ever been simulataneously seduced and repelled by the character of Ripley. Furthermore, Wilson's writing style is both beautiful and compulsive - I couldn't put it down and I cannot imagine a better book on this great 20th century subject
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At Last! 5 Jan 2004
By R. P. Sedgwick VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a long-time fan of Patricia Highsmith, who I have been reading since I was a teenager, I was looking forward to reading this book to find out about the author, of whom I knew very little other than the basic details of her life.
I wasn't disappointed. Beautiful Shadow interweaves the life of Highsmith and her books almost as one, and demonstrates how the two are so closely interlinked.
It's hard to believe from her books that Highsmith was most contended of individuals, and this proves to be the case.
Her story, which Wilson (although he never met her) has put together with the help of her journals and interviews with friends and contacts, is a masterful account of a tragic and tortured individual, who led a lonely life interrupted really only by the joy she gained from writing and painting.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remembering Pat 9 Sep 2003
When the young journalist, Andrew Wilson, came to interview me for his book about Patricia Highsmith, I couldn't imagine how he would ever be able to capture the emotional volatility, the piercing intellectual focus, and the utter simplicity, almost transparency, of her powerful and often disturbing presence. Amazingly, Wilson has carried off this herculean task and given us a Highsmith almost as brilliantly complex and perplexingly ingenuous as the woman herself. Surely the next best thing to having actually known her is to read this superb biography.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At Long Last 17 Jun 2003
By A Customer
About the book: It’s a warts-and-all, cradle-to
grave portrayal of Pat Highsmith and I found it gripping from
start to finish. It is deft and persuasive in its
tracing of the historical and cultural contexts in
which PH had her being, interwoven with their often
corrosive effects on her imagination, behavior, and
emotional mindset, as well as their influence, benign
and otherwise, on her reading and writing. All in
all, and without a suggestion of smuttiness, it is a
comprehensive and comprehensible overview of a
splintered personality----all the more remarkable (in
my opinion) in that the author was able to achieve such
a distillation given the amount of material he could have
added but had to leave out in order to avoid overburdening the book. I think PH would be beyond measure astonished
at the depth and balance of the undertaking and not entirely displeased at the sometimes unsparing result.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptional talent!!! 22 Aug 2003
Andrew Wilson is a wordsmith extraordinaire. His natural and unique talent for captivating the reader with quick paced and incisive narrative together with what seemed to be a genuine interest and understanding of Patricia Highsmith made this outstanding biography a gripping read and a real page turner from start to finish. For anyone who enjoys top notch writing as much as a compelling story - this is the book for you.
Definitely my top pick for 2003. Wilson is going to be a huge talent in the literary world - move over Martin Amis and co - Wilson is coming!
An excellent and truly exhilirating read....!!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the talented mr. wilson 19 April 2009
By bagoas
This is a wonderful book, a real must-have for all Highsmith fans. Thoroughly researched, based on Highsmith personnal diaries and cahiers, this is a literary biography as they all should be: keeping a close eye on the private just to iluminate the pubic, i.e., Highsmith books and her deep, funny, dark, irresistible literature. Go get it!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars stuart pe-win 22 Oct 2006
By Laclos
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am not a big fan of literary biographies but I found this to be very readable and insightful. A "must by" for fans of her work.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Weird, Unkind, and Dissolute 6 Jan 2004
By takingadayoff TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
"She was a weird, unkind, dissolute person." This is how her goddaughter remembers Patricia Highsmith, and after reading Andrew Wilson's biography, I think so, too. But there were all those great books and stories. . .
In Beautiful Shadow (a reference to the name of Ripley's home in France, Belle Ombre), Wilson describes quite a lot of Highsmith's writing, so by the end of the book, you may have a long list of novels and stories to look for. He examines her influences, her relationships (romantic and otherwise), and her many quirks.
Highsmith was never very popular in the U.S., at least until the recent movie The Talented Mister Ripley, came out after her death. She was more successful in Europe, where fans even recognized her in the street. Perhaps this explains why she lived most of her adult life in Europe. She was never very comfortable anywhere, even in her own body, according to those who knew her, but she seemed less uncomfortable in Europe.
What sort of a mind comes up with the sort of strange, compelling stories that Highsmith did, with their amoral and still often sympathetic characters? Wilson goes a long way toward answering that question in this biography, but some questions remain unanswered, and maybe it's better that way.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a beautifully written biography of one of the most fascinating...
This is a beautifully written biography of one of the most fascinating writers and creators of the Twentieth Century. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Tim Llewellyn
4.0 out of 5 stars A Singular Life
The "beautiful shadow" is a slightly self-conscious metaphor by the biographer: Belle Ombre is the house Tom Ripley occupies in Villeperce ( a thinly disguised name change... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Aristide Bruant
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating.
I began reading the fiction of Patricia Highsmith two years ago. After reading this biography, I realise that she was vastly underrated and (unsurprisingly)
wasted on the... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Letheon
5.0 out of 5 stars very well done biography
A clear, very readable and entertaining portrait of the author, in all her eccentricity. A person isolated by her own prickliness, yet always reaching out for that true love she... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Carol M
4.0 out of 5 stars light and shadow
I suppose the light would be Highsmith's extremely intelligent and admirably original novels, and the shadow her unhappy life, as told here skilfully and evenhandedly. Read more
Published on 4 July 2012 by terence dooley
5.0 out of 5 stars good book
well-i disagree wholeheartedly with the person who slated andrew wilson(and no,i'm not related!)-i thought this book covered miss highsmiths life in depth and in an interesting... Read more
Published on 20 Mar 2009 by snailtank
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