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The ultimate anti-hero, and yet a literary idol of mine: Patricia Highsmith

House of Anansi Women's History Month

Patricia Highsmith hated her mother. And dogs. (I can hear you gasping. Who hates dogs? Nobody hates dogs! Well, Patricia Highsmith did.)

When I set out to write about an author that inspired me, I instantly thought of Highsmith. Her dark, beautiful, twisted novels are truly unique, I think. They have been captivating readers for decades, and have inspired filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers On A Train), Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Todd Haynes (Carol, the adaptation of Highsmith’s novel The Price Of Salt).

Then I started researching Highsmith a little bit, and after I did that, I realized that under no circumstances could I call her my hero. There are many things that I read about Highsmith’s personal and political views that I did not like at all or that outright shocked me. (Not just her issues with dogs.) So my first instinct told me to simply choose somebody else to write about. Someone more likeable, someone more, well . . . heroic.

But Highsmith intrigues me. Author Joan Schenkar starts her biography, “The Talented Miss Highsmith“, like this: “She wasn’t nice. She was rarely polite.“ Joan Schenkar spent nearly eight years working on that biography, so I think it is safe to assume that she chose her first sentence well. And there we have it: Ms. Highsmith wasn’t nice. In fact, the brilliant author of novels such as Strangers On A Train, Deep Water and The Talented Mr. Ripley was infamous for being a difficult character. Patricia Highsmith, if we believe her biographers, wasn’t a pleasant person to be around, and she had no intention to be. That must have struck people as odd, especially back then — a woman who did not care what people thought of her. I find this rather interesting.

Don’t get me wrong. I like nice. I’m all for being nice. It’s tough out there, and I think we should be as kind to one another as we possibly can. But still, I am fascinated with how unapologetic Ms. Highsmith was. That is so rare. It must feel so freeing, especially for a woman: to be yourself, at all times, without giving people’s opinions a second thought.

Melanie Raabe was born in 1981 in Jena, Germany, and grew up in a 400-person village in Thuringia and a small town in North Rhine-Westphalia. She has worked as a journalist, scriptwriter, blogger, performer, and theatre actress. The Trap is her first novel and is being published in fourteen countries. She lives in Cologne.

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