Italy · review

Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith

those who walk awayThose Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith

Originally published 1967, this edition Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994

Note: There are spoilers in this review.

My 2014 reading resolutions involve tackling more books written before 2000 and books that have been sitting on my shelves for awhile, so I decided to make a dent in my stack of Patricia Highsmith novels. This is my first Highsmith novel, but I’ve seen the movie version of The Talented Mr. Ripley from the 1990’s.

So Those Who Walk Away begins with Ray, a young widower, being shot by his former father in law, Coleman, in Venice just three weeks after Ray’s wife and Coleman’s only child Peggy killed herself in Mallorca, where the young couple was living for the year after they married. Ray is merely grazed, but the rest of the novel involves Ray and Coleman’s violent encounters and hiding from each other around Venice. Ray doesn’t report the murder attempt and later hides from Coleman, which is not a response I expected from him.

The book spends most of its time in Ray’s head, but Coleman gets several chapters as well. Even though we spend the novels in their heads, I don’t really feel like I got to know them, though. Coleman and Peggy are artists, and Ray is an aspiring gallery owner who is schmoozing painters in Europe during his extended honeymoon. It’s a novel that takes place among a small circle of rich ex-pats with artistic leanings and a handful of Italian people they take in their confidences, and Highsmith is playing with the idea of what you do when you suspect someone of murder. In this case, most people do nothing. It’s a grim worldview.

It’s a strange book because I was expecting more action after the attempted murder of Ray on page 2, but I assume Highsmith is trying to be realistic: lots of people go unpunished by the criminal justice system, lots of people feel guilty about suicides of their spouses and family members, and some relationships are irreparably broken over such a tragedy. That being said, I finished the book feeling quite uneasy about the characters: I’m still pretty suspicious of Ray by the end. All in all, this book was disturbing, but it wasn’t as disturbing as I was expecting from Highsmith.

I bought my copy of the book.

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12 thoughts on “Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith

  1. Rebecca – Your final line: Al in all, this book was disturbing, but it wasn’t as disturbing as I was expecting from Highsmith is so telling. HIghsmith was able to take readers to some very dark psychological places, and without a lot of gore, too. And I think you make a well-taken point about people being able to get away with crime. I agree that happens probably more often than we think.

    1. Margot- It was definitely a different reading experience than I expected, and I’m interested in reading some of her other novels. Psychological suspense is such a broad term, isn’t it.

  2. Rebecca, I’m hoping to read Strangers on a Train this year, which should tick a box on one of my challenges. I’ve not read Highsmith before, so I’m unsure how I’ll get on. I can’t say I’m rushing towards it on the strength of your review on this one though. Wish me luck!

  3. Interesting review. Highsmith is one of those authors who’s been on my radar for years but I’ve never quite got around to trying. I think if I was going to, like Col I’d probably start with Strangers on a Train just because I like the film so much. But perhaps that’s just setting the book up for unfair comparisons…

    1. I look forward to your review. I’ve owned a copy of Ripley for ages, and I’ve heard good things from friends so I had sort of high expectations. I just wasn’t ready to have them toyed with, I think. I haven’t done any book-to-movie posts, but Strangers on a Train is a possibility.

  4. Hmmph, never heard of this one but I’m only familiar with her popular titles which I own like Strangers and Ripley. Glad to see you tackle on oldie. Hope to see more of that, too. I find that some of the older titles have held up well over time and a few not so well.

    1. Thanks, Keishon: I’m trying for a little variety. I heard from someone on Twitter that there’s a movie version of Highsmith’s Price of Salt coming out this year. It’s not a title I’ve heard of, but I’m willing to give it a try.

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