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 Highsmith’s Suffolk home at Earl Soham consisted of two period cottages knocked
into one
A friend who visited her in Earl Soham was horrified to discover she kept around 100 in her handbag, along with a head of lettuce, and carried them everywhere.
and declared she found it appealing as the act seemed devoid of pleasure or emotion.
A friend who visited her in Earl Soham was horrified to discover she kept around 100 in her handbag, along with a head of lettuce, and carried them everywhere. When he met her again at a dinner party in London, she opened it with pride and announced to the astounded guests that they were her companions for the evening. At a cocktail party, she released 30 of them onto an expensive linen tablecloth, causing them to leave silky stains. Later, when she left the village for France, she smuggled her favourites across the Channel inside her bra.
The gastropods even inspired a short story she penned in 1966 called The Snail Watcher. The protagonist fills his apartment with them until there are so many he is trapped inside. Eventually they block his airways and kill him. Quite what the psychiatrist who encountered her earlier would have made of that is not stated.
Highsmith always preferred animals to people, once infamously declaring that if she came across a starving kitten and a starving child, she would feed the cat and leave the infant to
fend for itself. However, she
did make one well-known
friend while in Suffolk:
Ronald Blythe, who was working on his soon-to-be-published book Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village.
Quite what the author of a tome celebrating the history and customs of a fictionalised Aldeburgh had in common with a woman who loved to shock with her blood-soaked tales is anyone’s guess, but the pair met up regularly. Highsmith was also an alcoholic nymphomaniac and an atheist, while Blythe confined himself to the occasional sweet sherry and appeared to be celibate. Nevertheless the man who went on to become a lay canon at St Edmundsbury Cathedral admitted they slept together once or twice.
The split from Besterman happened in October 1966 and Highsmith left Earl Soham for good. She eventually settled in Switzerland, where she died in 1995 aged 74, but not before penning four more Ripley novels and seeing a semi-autobiographical lesbian love story she was originally advised to publish under a pseudonym be re-released under her own name in 1990. Carol was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in 2015. Apparently Highsmith spent her final
years addicted to watching BBC soap EastEnders. Given the amount
of psychopaths inhabiting Albert Square, is it any wonder?
Devils, Lusts and Strange Desires: The Life of Patricia Highsmith is published by Bloomsbury and is available in hardback (RRP £20) and eBook (£14)
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