'Every adult has secrets', says one of the characters in Patricia Highsmith's novel Carol , first published under a pseudonym in 1952 as The Price of Salt . Indeed, Highsmith - author of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr Ripley - had more than her fair share. She felt uncomfortable about discussing the source of her fiction and refused to answer questions about her private life. Yet after her death in February 1995, Highsmith left behind a vast archive of personal documents - diaries, notebooks and letters - which detail the links between her life and her work.
Highsmith's output was prolific - she was the author of 22 novels and 7 volumes of short stories - but it was always the degenerate and the criminal which most fascinated her. Best known for her suspense novels and the series featuring the amoral killer Tom Ripley, Highsmith raised crime fiction to new heights, and in the process created a transgressive genre of her own.
Even as a child, Highsmith felt like an outsider. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, she was the product of an unhappy marriage - before she was born her mother tried to abort her and she did not meet her real father until she was twelve. When other girls of her age were reading fairy stories, Highsmith was dreaming of death and deviancy, gripped by the psychological case histories outlined in Dr Menninger's The Human Mind . As an adolescent she felt attracted to other girls, but was always plagued by a sense of guilt, and as a young woman she would undergo six months of psychoanalysis in New York so as to try to make herself heterosexual. Throughout her life she would find herself drawn to a number of women whom she could use as muses, women who have here talked about Highsmith for the first time. Yet the fantasy love affair - a relationship conducted within the confines of the imagination - was always more alluring than the reality and as a result the only lasting happiness Highsmith experienced came through her work.
Drawing on Highsmith's voluminous personal papers, and the testimonies of her closest friends, Andrew Wilson has written the first biography of the author described by Graham Greene as 'the poet of apprehension' and by Gore Vidal as 'one of our greatest modernist writers'. In this biography he illuminates the dark corners of Highsmith's life, cast light on the mysteries of the creative process and reveals the secrets that the writer chose to keep hidden until after her death.