Monday, 19 January 2009

Patricia Highsmith; the covers

Since I started collecting the books of Patricia Highsmith I have always thought about how the book jackets and cover designs of her books have changed over the years, and how the designs have reflected the flux of Highsmith's catagorisation in a spectrum ranging from pulp fiction, to murder mystery, to cult reading, to serious literature. She is a writer who, in Europe, for example, was always classed as serious, but could always be found in American libraries between genre books and cheap pan editions, which over time, have aquired a whole new kind of seriousness in their kitsch collectablity. Here are some of my favourite first edition covers.

On flickr there is an interesting example of "The Blunderer", which had been issued as a pulp novel under the title "Lament for a Lover" (1956, The Popular Library/Eagle Books). You can view it here, courtesy of Hang Fire Books. The most noticable change in jacket design must be Highsmith's "The Price of Salt" (1952), which apparently inspired Nabakov to write Lolita. It was originally published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, but Highsmith eventually reclaimed the book, and it is now marketed in a much more sophisticated style to its pulp predecessor. In England the title was even changed to the simple "Carol" (see below), to give it a new life and rid it of pulp fiction overtones. I do like the boldness of the original hardback, however.

Tom Ripley is Highsmith's most famous protaganist, and although I am very pleased to own the Cresset Press first edition of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1955), I am not especially fond of the dust jacket. In fact, even though this is her most popular book, and always in print, I haven't really found an edition that seems ideal, although this Spanish copy is perhaps one of the better ones. W.W Norton reissued the Ripley series with some rather good covers in 2008, the best of which is "Ripley's Game" (1974).

There is a wonderful book design blog, Première de couverture, which features possibly the best recent reissue of Highsmith's books, by Bloomsbury. They have an informative page on Highsmith here. Bloomsbury's designs are what I suppose you could call retro-modern, making allusions to the noir-ish, genre placement which Highsmith falls under, but at the same time being suitably stylish designs of some weight, to match the gravitas of Highsmith's writing. I have always found it hard to recommend one of the absolute best Highsmiths, "Edith's Diary" (1977), because the cover has always been such a let-down! Although I still think there could be a better cover one day, perhaps the Bloomsbury edition helps this predicament, somewhat.

There are many titles that I haven't mentioned here, and I will keep looking for more designs as I am sure there must be lots of foreign editions that I am not familiar with. When I find some more good examples I will post an update.


steviecat said...

Here's a link to the Pan collectors' web site where there are four Highsmith paperback covers :

J Catlow-Shea said...

I love the jacket for Strangers on a Train...