Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Suspension of Mercy - Patricia Highsmith

I've been procrastinating over writing about this book for about a week now and I'm still not sure how I'm going to do it without spoilers (let's see how that pans out). Normally I'm not bothered by spoilers; I like knowing what's going to happen in advance and then trying to work out how as the book unfolds. In this case however I feel spoilers really would spoil.

Whilst I wrestle with that particular problem... This is the first Highsmith I've read despite meaning to have tried her for very many years. I've seen a couple of the Ripley films and enjoyed them very much, had her recommended a few times, gone as far as to buy at least one book, but it was a short story in 'Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives' that actually did the trick. After that seeing that Virago were reprinting her at this end of the year it was only a matter of time.

So here I am with 'A Suspension of Mercy' in hand, full of enthusiasm for it, and feeling particularly tongue tied.

Sydney and Alicia Bartleby met when Alicia was visiting New York, after a relatively short time they've married, with the qualified approval of her family, and they've moved to the UK. Thanks to the generosity of Alicia's family they've bought a house and are partly living on Alicia's private income of £50 a month (the book was written in 1965) and partly money Sydney has from a couple of published novels back in America.

Alicia paints abstracts (I imagine work which is competent rather than good) and Sydney is unsuccessfully trying to get a publisher for a 3rd novel and sell some scripts for television which he writes with his friend Alex. Their house is in the middle of nowhere and on the whole the marriage is foundering a little bit, perhaps because they spend so much time together.

A new neighbour highlights the tensions between the pair, and Sydney is weaving plot lines around murdering his wife. It's not a healthy situation, and then Alicia decides to go away for a bit, or at least that's what Sydney is telling everyone...

It's brilliant, tightly plotted, unexpected, tense, confusing (in a good way), and thoroughly satisfactory in every respect. I'm delighted I've got 2 more waiting for me.


  1. Ooh, this sounds good - and what a wonderful cover image. I wish I had a private income. Though it would seem to lead to trouble. ;-)

  2. I wish I had a private income too, then trouble wouldn't matter so much ;-)

  3. Thanks for this review. I discovered Patricia Highsmith this year through her novel Carol which was so good. I'm going to add this one to my list, too!