Hot Best Seller

The Tremor of Forgery: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics Book 202)

Availability: Ready to download

Howard Ingham finds it strange that no one has written to him since he arrived in Tunisia - neither the film director that he is supposed to be meeting in Tunis, nor his lover in New York who is, he hopes, missing him. While he waits around at a beach resort, unable to get going on the film script he is there to write, he starts work on a new novel, about a man living an a Howard Ingham finds it strange that no one has written to him since he arrived in Tunisia - neither the film director that he is supposed to be meeting in Tunis, nor his lover in New York who is, he hopes, missing him. While he waits around at a beach resort, unable to get going on the film script he is there to write, he starts work on a new novel, about a man living an amoral double life. Howard also befriends a fellow American who has a taste for Scotch and a suspicious interest in the Soviet Union, and a Dane who appears to distrust Arabs intensely. When bad news finally arrives from home, Howard thinks he may as well stay and continue writing, despite the tremors in the air of violence, tensions and ambiguous morals.


Compare

Howard Ingham finds it strange that no one has written to him since he arrived in Tunisia - neither the film director that he is supposed to be meeting in Tunis, nor his lover in New York who is, he hopes, missing him. While he waits around at a beach resort, unable to get going on the film script he is there to write, he starts work on a new novel, about a man living an a Howard Ingham finds it strange that no one has written to him since he arrived in Tunisia - neither the film director that he is supposed to be meeting in Tunis, nor his lover in New York who is, he hopes, missing him. While he waits around at a beach resort, unable to get going on the film script he is there to write, he starts work on a new novel, about a man living an amoral double life. Howard also befriends a fellow American who has a taste for Scotch and a suspicious interest in the Soviet Union, and a Dane who appears to distrust Arabs intensely. When bad news finally arrives from home, Howard thinks he may as well stay and continue writing, despite the tremors in the air of violence, tensions and ambiguous morals.

30 review for The Tremor of Forgery: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics Book 202)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont

    The Tremor of Forgery is the first novel by Patricia Highsmith that I have ever read. It was this year’s main ‘holiday book’, taken with me to Tunisia for no better reason than it is set in Tunisia. I chose it, in other words, for precisely the same reason that I took Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile to Egypt last year. Setting out on a review here is beset with uncertainty, a little like going on safari without a guide, a map or a compass. I simply have no landmarks, no basis for comparison The Tremor of Forgery is the first novel by Patricia Highsmith that I have ever read. It was this year’s main ‘holiday book’, taken with me to Tunisia for no better reason than it is set in Tunisia. I chose it, in other words, for precisely the same reason that I took Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile to Egypt last year. Setting out on a review here is beset with uncertainty, a little like going on safari without a guide, a map or a compass. I simply have no landmarks, no basis for comparison. I certainly know of Highsmith’s work, her reputation as a writer of thrillers and crime stories, through film adaptations of novels like Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr Ripley, but as commendable as these may be they are little better than palimpsests. The Tremor of Forgery is a simple, subtle and altogether deceptive piece of work, a trap for the unwary, for those beguiled by surfaces. As I read it the impressions crowded in. I had no Highsmith to compare with Highsmith. What I had instead was Albert Camus’ The Stranger and Paul Bowles' Let it Come Down, novels that also happen to be set in North Africa, the latter in Morocco and the former in Algeria, Tunisia’s neighbours in the Maghreb. But there is more than mere geography here. All of these books deal with displacement, alienation and moral ambiguity; all, if you like, are about Strangers on a Plain! I simply loved The Tremor of Forgery, loved the author’s limpid prose style, loved the way she handled her themes, loved the psychological insight. This is no mere writer of crime fiction; this is an author on a far higher plain than poor old, dear old Agatha Christie. Her sense of place and time is perfect. She seems to understand Tunisia, though I have no idea if she has ever been there. She certainly understands the experience of living in an alien culture, the challenges this presents to the moral lumber and sense of certainty that the outsider brings along with the luggage. The main outsider here, the narrator, is Howard Ingham, an American writer who comes to Tunisia to work on a screenplay. His story unravels against the background of the Six Day War between the Arabs and Israelis. Though this has no direct impact on Ingham, it creates an underlying mood of anti-Western hostility that may or may not have had an impact on Anders Jensen, a Danish artist and homosexual that Ingham befriends. Incidentally, as a small aside here, Highsmith, in Ingham’s correspondence, preserves the rather quaint antique dating convention whereby the last two numbers of the year are substituted with a dash. So we have June 8, 19 – Hey, but we already know this is 1967! The Tremor of Forgery creates a tremulous mood right from the outset. Ingham is alone in a strange land. There is no word from home, either from John Castlewood, the film director who is supposed to be joining him in Tunisia, or from Ina, his girlfriend and possible future wife, in New York. Increasingly apprehensive, he decides to work on a new novel, which concerns a morally ambiguous banker. The ambiguity here is heightened by the fact that Ingham selects The Tremor of Forgery as a working title, only to discard it! As time passes – still no word from the States despite increasingly desperate pleas – he makes friends with two wholly contrasting fellow expats – Jensen, whom I have already mentioned, and Francis Adams, another American. Jensen hates the Arabs, though paradoxically he has gone native, living in a seedy Arab neighbourhood in the seaside town of Hammamet. More than that, in going native he has taken on the moral ambiguity of his surroundings, where life and death are matters of indifference. Adams is a contrast in every way. A rather absurd character, he is a Rock of Gibraltar so far as Western and American standards of morality are concerned. Pompous and possibly delusional, he broadcasts a weekly talk show to the Soviet Union, a secret he confides to his new friend. The content is so laughably self-righteous that Ingham accords him the nickname of OWL – Our Way of Life. Bit by bit Ingham’s own standards are corrupted, a reflection in real life of the action in his evolving novel, the elliptical story within the story. He grows closer to Jensen, his most important confidante, more important than the distant Ina, who remains distant even when she eventually appears on the scene. The heart of the mystery is a death, or is not a death – we simply never know! Ingham absorbs a lot of Jensen’s distrust of the Arabs, one Arab in particular, a notorious thief. This Arab may, or may not, have attempted to break into Ingham’s hotel bungalow in the dark. In guarding against the intruder Ingham reaches for the only weapon to hand, his typewriter, which he throws, hitting his target, possibly killing him, or possibly not killing him. All we know, all Ingham ever knows, is that after a scream, a fall and a scuffle in the dark, there is nobody and no body. The Arab in question simply disappears, no questions asked. This is the core of this clever little book, as intense as a medieval morality tale, with modern existential and psychological overtones, made all the more intriguing by an ever present sense of threat. Ingham tells Jensen. What does it matter?, he responds; nobody cares. It matters, says Adams. He suspects that Ingham has had a part in the Arab’s fate, or is failing to tell the whole story. Drawn between the one pole and the other, Ingham begins to question who and what he is, who and what he has become. Do not look for resolutions here: there are none. When Ina appears, briefed by Adams, she puts pressure on Ingham to confess the whole truth, though there is really no whole truth to confess. She comes draped in conventional religious morality, though there are clear overtones of hypocrisy here, particularly in the relationship she may have had with the movie director, who has since committed suicide, a relationship that is never fully revealed. I was so impressed by The Tremor of Forgery, not at all what I expected, far more than a simple crime thriller. I was all the more impressed reading it in situ, aware of the ambiguity of my surroundings, aware that this was a place where certainties may be no more solid than the mirages I saw in the great salt lake of Chott el Jerid. This is a beautifully unsettling story, that, if properly read, may very well lead you to question what Ingham questions; to question who and what we are. Unlike Strangers on a Train or The Talented Mr Ripley, this is a book that is unlikely ever to be made into a movie. It’s far too realistic for that.

  2. 4 out of 5

    J.

    People on vacation, or on a working vacation, or on a vacation that turns to work occasionally-- are slightly different than ordinary people. Their connection to the world is shifted, their spending, dining, recreating, interacting habits-- are all slightly different in the vacation or travel mode. Either their guard is up, or down, or the general components of what comprises their "guard" has shifted a little, subtly changed. The talented Miss Highsmith sympathizes, taking genuine interest and People on vacation, or on a working vacation, or on a vacation that turns to work occasionally-- are slightly different than ordinary people. Their connection to the world is shifted, their spending, dining, recreating, interacting habits-- are all slightly different in the vacation or travel mode. Either their guard is up, or down, or the general components of what comprises their "guard" has shifted a little, subtly changed. The talented Miss Highsmith sympathizes, taking genuine interest and fairly bloodthirsty delight in the crossed signals and misplaced allegiances that can result. Written in 1968, The Tremor Of Forgery is Highsmith at the top of her game, or even maybe just past it, enough that her usual ingredients are stirred, shaken, and mixed-up a fair amount. Without doing a summary of the plot, it's enough to say that her usual Innocent gets himself entangled in traps of moral, sexual, criminal and cultural dimension, all while trying to navigate a self-appraising re-inventory of his life and oh, yes, happens to be writing a novel. The best of it is in the early going, when an imminent, unnerving 'something' is swirling in the air of the Tunisian resort where our protagonist has set up camp. As usual in Highsmith, something inevitable is happening, forming in dark clouds just around the bend-- but for the moment, we only feel the foreboding. The North African setting offers something we don't usually get in this author's books, which is a drastic, horizontal plane of action, the desert and sea of the location; it is somehow even more dizzying to watch the usual bad-to-worse spiral take place in this land of deep-focus and undefined context. (..and yes of course, Messrs Camus and Bowles are standing in the shadows..) Once the gears and cogs begin to rotate, we're on firmer ground, but the unmentioned, the between-the-lines dread of the situation are what has hooked the reader by this point. When I say she's past the top of her game, it is because there is something simple, maybe like chamber music, that is being played here; every action and counter-action prompts an overtone or an undertone... each duly appears, in-time and on-cue. Highsmith is composing her weirdo music here, tapping the keys that will set the mood for the entrance of the theme that sets up the questions, blithely knowing, hearing the ripples and answering tones, just like the musician aiming at that final, puzzle-solving end-chord. Cat and mouse, but a lot of fun.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tosh

    There has always been traces of Paul Bowles in Highsmith's fiction - and this book is almost a love letter of sorts to Bowles' world. Without moral overtones one falls into the spell of evil or at least except it on a face value. Very disturbing, even creepy like.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I found this different from other Highsmith novels in that the characters are all fairly likeable and believable, not as extreme or as paranoid as I've come to expect. What isn't likeable is Howard Ingham's increasingly less than sympathetic view of Arabs. "Ingham imagined that Arabs were more or less always the same from one day to the next, that no external events could much affect them," for example. Highsmith does a good job of showing Ingham's shifting sense of self, of morality, in the hea I found this different from other Highsmith novels in that the characters are all fairly likeable and believable, not as extreme or as paranoid as I've come to expect. What isn't likeable is Howard Ingham's increasingly less than sympathetic view of Arabs. "Ingham imagined that Arabs were more or less always the same from one day to the next, that no external events could much affect them," for example. Highsmith does a good job of showing Ingham's shifting sense of self, of morality, in the heat, barrenness and otherness of the Tunisian landscape. She seems genuinely interested in exploring notions of morality and in following Ingham's search for an authentic self, less intent on taking us down the path of an inevitable downturn... Ingham missteps but he also "confesses", and still is able to follow his less conventional self to achieve a surprisingly--for Highsmith--"happy" turn of affairs by the novel's end. Highsmith's portrait of the Danish artist Jensen and his beloved dog, the growing friendship/love between the two men, their care for the animal, is completely believable. There is more tenderness in this novel, despite the harsh landscape (because of?), than I'm used to seeing in Highsmith territory. The American "OWL" provides comic moments but he too is taken seriously as a character. note: if you want to avoid spoilers, you'd best skip the comment section below.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    COUNTDOWN: Mid-20th Century North American Crime BOOK 37 (of 250) This is my second reading. In my first review below I state this is the most unusual Highsmith I've read (that remains true) and that I'd have ended the book 20 pages earlier with "Ingham lit a cigaratte" (and there I was wrong, perhaps). And still, there are 3 Highsmith novels I think better. (Right now, that is, as Highsmith novels are just so re-readable). HOOK - 4 stars: "You're sure there's no letter for me," Ingham asked. "How COUNTDOWN: Mid-20th Century North American Crime BOOK 37 (of 250) This is my second reading. In my first review below I state this is the most unusual Highsmith I've read (that remains true) and that I'd have ended the book 20 pages earlier with "Ingham lit a cigaratte" (and there I was wrong, perhaps). And still, there are 3 Highsmith novels I think better. (Right now, that is, as Highsmith novels are just so re-readable). HOOK - 4 stars: "You're sure there's no letter for me," Ingham asked. "Howard Ingham. I-n-g-h-a-m." He spelt it, a little uncertainly, in French, though he had spoken in English. The plump Arab clerk in the bright red uniform glanced through the letters in the cubbyhold marked I-J, and shook his head. "Non, m'sieur." This 2-paragraph opening tells us Howard Ingham is waiting on a letter, that he is unsure the clerk understands him, that he's somewhere, geographically, that consists of mixed cultures, that Howard himself is apparently well-traveled and well-educated as far as languages but still he is unsure of his own communication capabilities. What's in the letter? Who is it from? Where is Ingham, anyway? (Tunisia) You might, like me, want to pronounce his name as Ingraham as you read. But it's i-n-g-h-a-m. It's off a bit, and perfect for a Highsmith novel. PACE - 3: Steady character development and continual tension after an early murder takes place. But Highsmith doesn't rush things, she never does. She isn't Spillane, she doesn't write pure action thrillers. PLOT -4: Ingham is hired to write a screenplay set in Tunisia and to be filmed there. The producer, John Castlewood, has sent Ingham ahead to get a feel for the area, to perhaps get a first draft in place. Ingham is also writing a follow-up novel to his very successful "The Game of If." After weeks of not hearing from John, nor from his girlfriend, Ina, he finally gets a letter. His world is turned upside down by the contents of said letter. Then, someone breaks into his bungalow and things go bad. Our 'hero' is alone in a foreign country, no one is coming for him, he has only his mind and the novel he is writing to deal with issues. When Highsmith nails a certain coffin shut, one can hear and feel it. (And you'll be surprised.) CHARACTERS - 4: Ingham decides not to name his new novel "The Tremor of Forgery" because, perhaps, that's too close to all that's happening. Then there is the problem of a missing body. Dead or alive? There are no cops investigating the crime. Hotel management refuses to discuss the issue. The employees say nary a word. And is Ingham turning into the character in his new book? Is this the way he writes himself out of his predicament? Howard makes a few friends and when Jensen puts the move on Howard, he says no, but they become best friends. We're told early (page 2) in the book that "Homosexual relationships had no stigma here," which puts an early spin on several relationships. A missing dog plays a large part in friendships, as does the never-met ex-wife of Ingham, Charlotte. ATMOSPHERE - 5: Tunisia is an area of mixed cultures, Highsmith makes that clear. And she does it beautifully: it's a place I'd love to visit. I could never quite picture it, physically, I couldn't grab onto the look which makes this place even more intriguing. The politics of the world seem just right, and presented, really, for Ingham to ignore the rest of the universe. And Ingraham's frustration and confusion comes through clear as day: we, as readers, are alone but with him. We, as readers, don't know what to do, where to go. If you've become enthralled in a horror movie, say, and you scream at the screen, "No, don't go that way," you know something. Here, you just don't know what to yell at the character. And he can't settle down: there's a good reason he moves from his very nice bungalow to a mid-to-low level hotel with no indoor plumbing: he is...I think this is something each reader has to decide. He can't access Tunisia either, he just doesn't fit it. This is a case where the author had to place the story in a location unfamiliar to most readers. A place where culture boundaries are iffy. SUMMARY: This book is very good, better than I remembered. Overall, my rating is 4.0, so my original 3 star rating increases to 4. In 1987, the New Yorker declared this to be "her best work." It's definitely the one that placed Highsmith solidly in literary territory. But still, this is not one of my favorite Highsmith novels. As I'm making a few final touches to this review, I'm placing this book back on my 'to-read' shelf for 2019. ORIGINAL REVIEW -January 19th, 2016 This is the tenth Highsmith work I've read and for me it's her most unusual. The title is perfect as there are tremors of forgeries everywhere: signed/unsigned artwork; a man who might be dead; even romantic preferences that aren't resolved. It's been said that great artists know when to stop. I would have stopped twenty pages earlier with: "Ingham lit a cigarette." But I've never been called a "great artist".

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sketchbook

    Sweaty Tunisia in the blistering sun. PaHi, suspense writer of "sheer dread," keeps you uncomfortable in a labyrinth of amorality, ethics and ambiguous relationships. That said, I don't think you can kill someone by hurling your typewriter at 'em in the dark. The basic flaw here is the oopsy "murder." ~~ Consider the damage an inked eraser might cause if it hit the heart !

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Alaska)

    In her Introduction (which I read as an Afterword), Francine Prose calls this Highsmith's best. Admittedly this is only my third by Highsmith, so I'm definitely no expert on the subject, but I didn't like this as much as The Talented Mr. Ripley. For me, there was no tension. There is an extraordinary event, for which I assume I am expected to be anxious about consequences. The main character didn't seem to be anxious and so I wasn't either. The main character, Howard Ingham, simply wasn't the ha In her Introduction (which I read as an Afterword), Francine Prose calls this Highsmith's best. Admittedly this is only my third by Highsmith, so I'm definitely no expert on the subject, but I didn't like this as much as The Talented Mr. Ripley. For me, there was no tension. There is an extraordinary event, for which I assume I am expected to be anxious about consequences. The main character didn't seem to be anxious and so I wasn't either. The main character, Howard Ingham, simply wasn't the hand-wringing type. What I did like about this was there were two story-lines. Howard Ingham is an author, writing about an embezzler. His character, Dennison, has no guilty conscience. (Does he even have a tremor in the split second before his forgeries?) Ingham is not an embezzler, but his personality seems so very similar to that of his character. Perhaps others would find this clever. Prose also calls Highsmith funny. That had never occurred to me. Is there supposed to be humor in psychological novels? I simply didn't see anything in that vein, but not everyone's sense of humor is the same. Ingham's previous book titles are ridiculous, but it never occurred to me to dwell on them long enough to crack a smile. I admit I don't see humor in as many places as others do. I didn't hate this and it certainly doesn't put me off reading another Highsmith. But I could have skipped it and not missed anything.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I have purchased waaayyy too many books this year and decided to put myself on a book buying ban. But when I visited one of my favorite bookshops, I decided to ignore the ban and allowed myself to buy just one book. I was on the fence with what I wanted and finally decided to purchase this Highsmith, which on the front says "one of her best" from The New Yorker. No. No it isn't. Apparently the reviewer had never read "This Sweet Sickness" or "The Blunderer" or even Tom Ripley. There was no myste I have purchased waaayyy too many books this year and decided to put myself on a book buying ban. But when I visited one of my favorite bookshops, I decided to ignore the ban and allowed myself to buy just one book. I was on the fence with what I wanted and finally decided to purchase this Highsmith, which on the front says "one of her best" from The New Yorker. No. No it isn't. Apparently the reviewer had never read "This Sweet Sickness" or "The Blunderer" or even Tom Ripley. There was no mystery in this book at all. Oh wait, I was mistaken. There was a missing dog for a majority of the pages. But he comes back! This was a real disappointment. And made me never want to visit Tunisia!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy R

    I honestly don't think I've read this one before, which surprises me. (May just be my failing memory.) This novel ranks right up there with STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and TALENTED MR RIPLEY. All of Patty's usual motifs, quirks and neuroses are on full display here. Reading Patty can be dangerous. Patty is a misogynist lesbian, or vice versa. The ultimate misanthrope, she shows contempt for most of humanity, but she has a special animus towards women. Look at the nasty homophobic speech she puts into t I honestly don't think I've read this one before, which surprises me. (May just be my failing memory.) This novel ranks right up there with STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and TALENTED MR RIPLEY. All of Patty's usual motifs, quirks and neuroses are on full display here. Reading Patty can be dangerous. Patty is a misogynist lesbian, or vice versa. The ultimate misanthrope, she shows contempt for most of humanity, but she has a special animus towards women. Look at the nasty homophobic speech she puts into the mouth of the only female character of note in this novel. Or her vicious depiction of Marge Sherwood in TALENTED. Her main (male) character is nearly always some version of herself--esp the more successfully depicted ones. Ergo, her depictions of heterosexual relationships always strike me as a little "off." (Not that I would know much more on the subject than she did.) Patty reminds me of certain gay men of her era, her "attitudes" (which define character, accdg to her). The sex scenes in this one really ring false. Howard and Ina are so formal, distant and uptight with one another. (Like Patty had no idea how to play out the scenes; hence, simply unbelievable.) Of course, the only intimate relationship in the book is between Ingham and Jensen. They actually trust each other, like each other, are at ease in the other's company. These closety, vaguely referenced quasi-gay "friendships" pop up regularly in her novels (and are often the strongest human connection), but this time the subject that "dare not speak its name" is more directly acknowledged than usual. Ina's accusations. The sexual "hints" (which grow a bit heavy handed with all the talk of underpants and heat and reclining together under the desert stars). Can one of these Highsmith heroes go on and make it with a guy just once! None of these guys ever successfully comes across as a hetero male: they just come across as Patty cross-dressing. Gotta give Patty credit, though: She knows her neurotics. And her books obsess me.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Caterina

    So, this is how a liberal author would write in a pre-politically correct era: full of ethnic stereotypes, but given with the well-meant curiosity of the Westerner, who is not actually appalled by his/her encounter with a completely different culture, but instead judges everything by western measures. The moral issue of the story was quite inadequate for me, my personal view is that one has to do his/her duty and live by a certain moral code in any culture anywhere in this world. Reason is the b So, this is how a liberal author would write in a pre-politically correct era: full of ethnic stereotypes, but given with the well-meant curiosity of the Westerner, who is not actually appalled by his/her encounter with a completely different culture, but instead judges everything by western measures. The moral issue of the story was quite inadequate for me, my personal view is that one has to do his/her duty and live by a certain moral code in any culture anywhere in this world. Reason is the basis of ethics, please read your Aristoteles! I still don't understand most of the protagonist's decisions and I actually don't care anymore! Not my best Highsmith.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Merl Fluin

    A man goes abroad and slowly falls apart. Does he lose himself, find himself, or discover he has no real self at all? Yes, the same old Highsmith theme, but somehow (how? how? how the hell does she do it?) it never gets stale. I chanced upon this one in a second-hand bookshop and made the mistake of reading the first couple of pages on the bus home. I say mistake because once I'd started it the rest of my life was cancelled until I'd finished. Almost nothing happens for most of the book, and whe A man goes abroad and slowly falls apart. Does he lose himself, find himself, or discover he has no real self at all? Yes, the same old Highsmith theme, but somehow (how? how? how the hell does she do it?) it never gets stale. I chanced upon this one in a second-hand bookshop and made the mistake of reading the first couple of pages on the bus home. I say mistake because once I'd started it the rest of my life was cancelled until I'd finished. Almost nothing happens for most of the book, and when something does happen you're not sure what it was... and it's mesmerising.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kristine Brancolini

    The Tremor of Forgery defies description. I loved it and I'm at a loss to explain why. Patricia Highsmith must have been an utterly intriguing and mysterious woman. The only other books I have read by here are the first three Ripley books, which I devoured one after another in short succession. This book is neither a mystery nor a thriller. It is a morality tale. And even though nothing much happens, I can't stop thinking about the protagonist, Howard Ingham. He is the book's narrator and it's f The Tremor of Forgery defies description. I loved it and I'm at a loss to explain why. Patricia Highsmith must have been an utterly intriguing and mysterious woman. The only other books I have read by here are the first three Ripley books, which I devoured one after another in short succession. This book is neither a mystery nor a thriller. It is a morality tale. And even though nothing much happens, I can't stop thinking about the protagonist, Howard Ingham. He is the book's narrator and it's fascinating to follow his thinking as he tries to explain away an inexplicable lapse in morality. So, here are the three elements that I think combined to knock my socks off. The setting. Tunisia, summer, 1967. Near the beginning of the book, the 6-Day Arab/Israeli War occurs. And for the rest of the book, Ingham and his friends discuss the war and its potential to impact them as they live and work in seaside Hammamet. This is so strange given the recent eruption of violence in the Gaza Strip. Could the situation be more different today? We take it for granted that the Israelis have superior military strength than Hamas. Still no ceasefire. Still no peace. In 1967,Tunisia was untouched by the war or the continuing conflict once it ended. Parts of the book read like a travelogue, as Ingham and a Danish artist named Jensen travel around the country. But Highsmith also establishes this atmosphere of unease from the first page and never lets it go. The narrative structure. The reader is dropped almost in the middle of the action. Within a couple of pages, Highsmith has completely set up Ingham and his situation. Ingham has gone to Tunisia to meet a movie producer who wants him to write a screenplay set there. But John Castlewood has not arrived as expected and Ingham cannot reach him. They met through Ingham's girlfriend Ina, who works for CBS, but he can't reach her either. Since this is 1967, Ingham is writing letters and cabling. There's something about him being cut off from everyone back home that adds to the menacing atmosphere. Letters play an important role throughout the book. While waiting to hear from someone, Ingham begins writing a novel about a man named Dennison who embezzles money from the bank where he works. He lends it to people in need. Throughout the entire novel The Tremor of Forgery, Ingham is writing a novel that in the beginning had the same title. For Ingham, "[his] novel was more real and definite than Ina, John, or anything else. But that was to be expected, Ingham thought. Or was it?" (68) The dilemma. Can't tell you, but suffice to say that Ingham creates a situation in which he should be experiencing his own crisis of morality. But, curiously, he isn't. Here's a quotation from near the end of the book: "It has to do with the book I'm writing. Essentially, it's whether a person makes his own personality and his own standards from within himself, or whether he and the standards are the creation of the society around him" (p.193). And since Ingham is in Tunisia and "the Arabs all around [him] had different standards, different ethics," well, under those circumstances Ingham thinks that we might begin to question our own morals, our own ethics. Graham Greene thought this was Patricia Highsmith's best book and maybe it's not that, but she's a brilliant writer and it's definitely a compelling read. And although Camus covered similar ground in The Stranger, I'll take Highsmith any day.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    There is no straightforward incident that sends the narrative into motion. Nor is there a clear path that Howard Ingham, the main character, follows to pick up clues. Much like Highsmith's Ripley tales, this novel finds itself far more concerned with the inner workings of the central character. The reader will take every meal and spend every waking minute with him. The author's knowledge of how to make the reader feel the emotional status of her characters is on display here. The nervousness tha There is no straightforward incident that sends the narrative into motion. Nor is there a clear path that Howard Ingham, the main character, follows to pick up clues. Much like Highsmith's Ripley tales, this novel finds itself far more concerned with the inner workings of the central character. The reader will take every meal and spend every waking minute with him. The author's knowledge of how to make the reader feel the emotional status of her characters is on display here. The nervousness that one finds when in a possibly hostile foreign country surrounds this narrative. Also interesting to a current reader is a late sixties examination of world politics. Although the novel is set in Tunisia, the topics that are discussed feel very contemporary in the light of the current Israeli conflict. On a lighter note, Highsmith is at her best when describing the exotic locales in the novel. It reads like a beautiful travelogue, highlighting the best hotels and dinners in a fashion that an American traveler can relate to. Altogether a fine read blending mystery and travel and politics. I actually “lived” in Tunisia while reading. The reading was s-l-o-w and a bit dry in places, but oddly alluring and page turning. It propelled me through, even when nothing was "happening". It was clean and understated and I loved this book....

  14. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    I hated this title -- it seemed so hokey. Like “The Whip of Larceny” or “The Chains of Shoplifting” or something. But Highsmith nailed so much in this novel. The mood and tone rocked -- I’m so glad I read this in a steamy August in Baltimore -- not quite Tunisia, but I could start to begin to relate. I’m not big into mystery -- if this indeed qualifies -- but she did an excellent job of maintaining tension in a lazy atmosphere redolent of scotch and sweat -- the sun reduces problems to absurdity I hated this title -- it seemed so hokey. Like “The Whip of Larceny” or “The Chains of Shoplifting” or something. But Highsmith nailed so much in this novel. The mood and tone rocked -- I’m so glad I read this in a steamy August in Baltimore -- not quite Tunisia, but I could start to begin to relate. I’m not big into mystery -- if this indeed qualifies -- but she did an excellent job of maintaining tension in a lazy atmosphere redolent of scotch and sweat -- the sun reduces problems to absurdity, but the problems still hover about. As if something terrible is about to happen, at any moment, if someone bothers to get up off of his bum to do something about it. This leads to her exploration of amorality and whether it denotes derangement or cultural climate. Some strong characterization, and excellent editing, which I always appreciate. She also wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley, as well as other Ripley novels, which I haven’t read. But I would definitely recommend this one. Especially in the summer. And she references Proust on the last page!!!!!! He is EVERYWHERE!!!!!!!!!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Filipe Coutinho

    Writer arrives in Tunisia. Time passes. Poor judgement in the depiction of Tunisians. Some letters are written. More time passes. Slowly. A conservative character with strong views is introduced. More letters are written. Hurray, somebody gets killed. Oh, but we find out in a letter. More characters who treat Tunisians like animals are introduced. Time passes. It’s hot. There’s an “accident.” Consequences are inexistent. Guess what— letters. It’s really hot and the writer complains. He extends h Writer arrives in Tunisia. Time passes. Poor judgement in the depiction of Tunisians. Some letters are written. More time passes. Slowly. A conservative character with strong views is introduced. More letters are written. Hurray, somebody gets killed. Oh, but we find out in a letter. More characters who treat Tunisians like animals are introduced. Time passes. It’s hot. There’s an “accident.” Consequences are inexistent. Guess what— letters. It’s really hot and the writer complains. He extends his trip. He starts writing his new book. Rinse and repeat for a long time. Girlfriend arrives. It’s hot. No more letters. More time passes. Weird judgements are made. There’s talk about marriage. Nope, scratch that. Girlfriend leaves. Yay, one more letter. Wait, is our hero actually gay? Also nope. He leaves. The End.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Gamboa

    "The Sea of Doubt" is the title of this book in Italian, which, in my opinion, should've been its original title. Why? Howard is an interesting character in crisis to read about until he starts constantly changing his mind as to whether or not he loves Ina. Besides, after chapter 20, I started to feel a bit bored, like Jensen, everytime Abdullah's murder came up. I understand that Abdullah's murder is "the excuse" to address the moral issues in the book, but since such murder was more like an ac "The Sea of Doubt" is the title of this book in Italian, which, in my opinion, should've been its original title. Why? Howard is an interesting character in crisis to read about until he starts constantly changing his mind as to whether or not he loves Ina. Besides, after chapter 20, I started to feel a bit bored, like Jensen, everytime Abdullah's murder came up. I understand that Abdullah's murder is "the excuse" to address the moral issues in the book, but since such murder was more like an accident, I couldn't help thinking "let it go and move on!" whenever they went back to it. In the end, the only character I ended up liking was Jensen. OWL's preaching, along with Ina's hypocrisy, couldn't be more annoying and easy to dislike. However, the book atmosphere is hypnotizing and enthralling, and I loved reading it even though much wasn't happening in some chapters. I can understand why Graham Greene and The New Yorker considered this to be Highsmith's finest novel, but she's written better books filled with aprehension, suspense and existentialism issues such as "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Strangers on a Train". The political, religious, moral and even sex issues addressed in this book make it worth reading, but I would've liked more depth about them. I'd define this book as an existentialist travelogue, because the descriptions of what it's like to be in Tunisia are very thorough. All in all, and despite the unexpected but disappointing ending, it's worth reading, specially if you're a Highsmith's fan. If you've never read Highsmith, don't start with this one, because it's certainly not a "mystery and suspense" book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    The Tremor of Forgery [1969] – ★★★★ In this thriller by Highsmith, Howard Ingham, an American writer, finds himself in hot Tunisia. He is there to help shoot a film based on one of his books, but, mysteriously, no one appears from the people he is supposed to work with. Then, he finds out that the film director has committed suicide in New York, and, at his point, a psychological/spiritual gulf seems to grow between him and the people who he has just recently left in America. Amidst camel rides, The Tremor of Forgery [1969] – ★★★★ In this thriller by Highsmith, Howard Ingham, an American writer, finds himself in hot Tunisia. He is there to help shoot a film based on one of his books, but, mysteriously, no one appears from the people he is supposed to work with. Then, he finds out that the film director has committed suicide in New York, and, at his point, a psychological/spiritual gulf seems to grow between him and the people who he has just recently left in America. Amidst camel rides, couscous dishes and friendly banter with the locals, a corpse appears on Ingham’s path and one violent act soon makes him question his own sense of morality. The Tremor of Forgery might not have aged well, but it is still a quietly-thrilling book by the author who knows how to keep delicious suspense until the very last pages. Similar to Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley, there is a possible murder happening during one’s protracted mission abroad, people arrive to join the main character unexpectedly and delays in the receiving of letters means that the main character feels stranded and abandoned in a world foreign to him. The letters to and from New York which Ingham receives give plenty of opportunities to make all sorts of wrong interpretations and Ingham feels he does not have sufficient control over events. There is also the danger that Ingham, who starts to write a novel called The Tremor of Forgery, starts losing his grip on actual reality as Tunisia’s climate and his isolation make him more productive, but also more imaginative: “He had never known the sun so close and big. People farther north didn’t know what the sun was like, he thought. This was the true sun, the ancient fire that seemed to reduce one’s lifespan to a second and one’s personal problems to a minuscule absurdity” [Highsmith, 1969: 41]. It is little wonder that Graham Greene, the author of The Quiet American [1955], said that The Tremor of Forgery is “Highsmith’s finest novel” – like Greene’s The Quiet American, The Tremor of Forgery concerns a relationship between two English-speaking (one younger and one older) men who find themselves in an exotic place during civil unrest and on different sides of “a moral compass”. There is also the mention of a spy in The Tremor of Forgery and one character decides to stay in a country for a different purpose that was originally planned. In Highsmith’s narrative there does not seem to be anything unusual going on for most of the time, but there is still this feeling that something is amiss. These are small things, but they compel us to read further. This is coupled with Ingham’s growing doubts about himself and his past relationships with women – “suddenly, everything seemed so doubtful, so vague” [Highsmith, 1969: 34]. Then, Ingham meets Jensen, a young painter, who is undisturbed by Ingham’s growing indifference as to the plight of local people, while Ingham is increasingly trying to adopt “a native way of living” after one unfortunate incident during the night. Moments of quietness in Highsmith’s books are deceptive and should not be taken for the lack of action or ideas. Highsmith is a very clever writer and does not have to rely on plot twists every chapter to keep us intrigued. There is no sense of pressure in her book to move forward with the plot or reveal to us action or something substantial to get us interested – and yet, we are and will be interested. The same can be said about Highsmith’s secondary characters – the author has no intention of making them overly interesting or extraordinary – although they have their eccentricities, they still come across as rather ordinary – they simply are what they are. The Tremor of Forgery has some unlikeable characters and it is hard to imagine it being published today because of the presentation of local people in the book and certain other themes (even though it is clear that the point of view here will be the American tourists full of prejudice). However, Highsmith is her usual brutal honesty here, presenting a convincing portrayal and insight into one character whose deepest fears are slowly being realised in a foreign and exotic to him country.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mark Joyce

    There is a broad consensus even among those who knew and admired Patricia Highsmith that she could be a nasty piece of work. Be that as it may, I've got a lot of time for anybody who was prepared to lean into a candle flame and deliberately set their hair alight in order to liven up a tedious dinner party, which is apparently one of the many stunts she pulled during a long career of social misbehaviour. Her writing also suggests that there was a lot more going on beneath the self-styled misanthr There is a broad consensus even among those who knew and admired Patricia Highsmith that she could be a nasty piece of work. Be that as it may, I've got a lot of time for anybody who was prepared to lean into a candle flame and deliberately set their hair alight in order to liven up a tedious dinner party, which is apparently one of the many stunts she pulled during a long career of social misbehaviour. Her writing also suggests that there was a lot more going on beneath the self-styled misanthropic exterior. Her characters tend to be subtly and sympathetically drawn anti-heroes, driven by the idiocy of those around them to commit some reckless act that has all sorts of ruinous but usually avoidable consequences. This is the case with The Tremor of Forgery, although this is a slower, quieter novel than predecessors such as Deep Water and the Cry of the Owl. Without wanting to give anything away, it also has an uncharacteristically uplifting ending. No less a judge than Graham Greene believed this to be Highsmith's best novel. For what it's worth I reckon it's right up there too, although I've still got quite a few to get through.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Lawrence

    Less a novel and more an academic exercise, the subjects Highsmith is writing about—racism, stand your ground, propaganda, Israel—are eerily relevant forty-six years later.* There's suspense in the sense that you don't know what's going to happen next, but it's not exactly suspense because you don't necessarily care. Pretty sure I started this at least once previously because during the first half I had an odd sense of déjà vu. *Can you not make an m-dash on this thing?

  20. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Nutting

    Like an Aesop fable there was a moral to this story, I’m just not sure what it was?? The main character, Howard Ingham, was a real weirdo. He and his friends (?) drank enough Scotch to flood the Mediterranean. The dog was the only likable one. Many references to the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis, this book was written 50 years ago but nothing seems to ever improve in the Middle East. Liked learning more about Tunisia, otherwise it was a slow moving tale of despondency and indecision. I w Like an Aesop fable there was a moral to this story, I’m just not sure what it was?? The main character, Howard Ingham, was a real weirdo. He and his friends (?) drank enough Scotch to flood the Mediterranean. The dog was the only likable one. Many references to the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis, this book was written 50 years ago but nothing seems to ever improve in the Middle East. Liked learning more about Tunisia, otherwise it was a slow moving tale of despondency and indecision. I would have preferred reading the book he was writing, that plot sounded pretty good.

  21. 4 out of 5

    tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE

    On the cover of this is a quote purported to be from writer Graham Greene: "Highsmith's finest novel" & I'm inclined to agree. As w/ "Found in the Street" [see my review of that here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39...], the deaths aren't central mysteries to be solved, they're psychological mood setters. &, again as in "Found..", descriptions of personalities & the basic attitudes toward life that they represent are really the central concern. Highsmith's sympathetic depiction of the main On the cover of this is a quote purported to be from writer Graham Greene: "Highsmith's finest novel" & I'm inclined to agree. As w/ "Found in the Street" [see my review of that here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39...], the deaths aren't central mysteries to be solved, they're psychological mood setters. &, again as in "Found..", descriptions of personalities & the basic attitudes toward life that they represent are really the central concern. Highsmith's sympathetic depiction of the main character, a writer, is gentle & sensitive to a remarkably refined level. Unlike anything else I've read by this author so far, Highsmith brings in politics: anti- Vietnam War, an exposure of American imperialist arrogance, etc.. But none of it's heavy-handed. As in her treatment of the Lindemann character in "Found..", Highsmith's OWL is presented in a well-rounded way despite his obnoxiousness. The setting is Tunisia & Highsmith uses the cultural clash between the main character's NYC background & Arab culture to present a view of humanity in wch no oversimplification prevails. I don't know if Highsmith ever went to Tunisia but on pp106 & 113 she references a bk wch I assume/deduce she may've consulted in order to make "A Tremor of Forgery" more realistic: Norman Douglas' Fountains in the Sand: The main character, Ingham, has the bk w/ him: "Ingham would never see Miss Darby again, he supposed, which mattered neither to her nor to him. He was reminded of a passage in the Norman Douglas book which he had liked, and he picked up the book and looked for it. Douglas was talking about an old Italian gardener he had met by accident somewhere in Tunisia. The passage Ingham had marked went: "...he had travelled far in the Old and New Worlds; in him I recognized once again that simple mind of the sailor or wanderer who learns, as he goes along, to talk and think decently; who, instead of gathering fresh encumbrances on Life's journey, wisely discards even those he set out with." Unlike most crime fiction writers, Highsmith has a gentleness here that reminds me of Jean Genet's. There's no need to wallow in brutality to keep this reader, at least, engrossed. 2 people possibly die violent deaths, the reader never discovers the circumstances of one of them & is never sure whether the other person has even died. This is very subtle - where lesser writers wd metaphorically splatter the blood as much as possible in the reader's face in order to shock them into paying attn, Highsmith takes the much more difficult path of trying to address the complex psychological, cultural & social circumstances surrounding the event - leaving some of these a mystery when it's appropriate to do so to create an understanding of the main character's situation. Also unlike many of Highsmith's own novels (I think particularly of her "A Suspension of Mercy" [my review of that is here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15...]), the characters don't inevitably spiral down to their doom b/c of bad decisions. In my review of "..Suspension.." I write: "2 fairly ordinary people, a married couple, have some minor quirks. Their bad decisions follow one after the other in believable ways that're related to their quirks. Things cd go one way or the other - almost all the way to the end. But the bad decisions eventually lead to a tragedy that's even more tragic b/c of its sheer stupid unnecessariness." & this is certainly NOT the case in "The Tremor of Forgery" - although Highsmith sets up the reader to frequently wonder whether it will be. Decisions that Ingham makes seem to be heading in a self-destructive direction: his non-reporting of a corpse found, his staying on in Tunisia, his continued friendship w/ the OWL, his prevaricating over his relationship w/ Ina, his avoidance of a more public confronting of his altercation w/ a burglar. But instead of using these behaviors of Ingham's to ensnare him, Highsmith chooses a less sensational & perhaps more realistic way in wch things get worked out in moderation. Even the title of the bk is cleverly misleading & an opportunity for Highsmith to make writerly self-reference. My applause, Patricia Highsmith! I wish you were still alive so I cd compliment you in person!

  22. 4 out of 5

    pinknantucket

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I'm afraid I missed the point of this novel. Howard Ingham, a writer, has travelled from New York to Tunisia, to work on a film project with a soon-to-arrive acquaintance. In the meantime he starts work on a new novel. A few things happen; he gets caught up in some lies, feels disassociated from regular life, wonders if he really loves his girlfriend, maybe kills someone etc. Highsmith writes well, of course, but I wasn't entertained, challenged or provoked on reading this. I didn't experience su I'm afraid I missed the point of this novel. Howard Ingham, a writer, has travelled from New York to Tunisia, to work on a film project with a soon-to-arrive acquaintance. In the meantime he starts work on a new novel. A few things happen; he gets caught up in some lies, feels disassociated from regular life, wonders if he really loves his girlfriend, maybe kills someone etc. Highsmith writes well, of course, but I wasn't entertained, challenged or provoked on reading this. I didn't experience suspense, only a certain frustration. I only persevered because I haven't been able to finish many books recently & thought I needed to knuckle down and get to the end of at least ONE and Highsmith's was a lot shorter than Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections". I've read three of Highsmith's books - "The Talented Mr Ripley", of course, this one and another about a married couple that I don't remember very well. All three explored how ordinary people cross moral borders into deceit, murder etc. (Or perhaps to just consider murder). What Highsmith does so well is make it all seem so possible, so understandable. I found it almost unbearable to follow Tom Ripley's story, because he is so ashamed and anxious and uncomfortable in his own skin that you understand perfectly whey he felt pushed to take the actions he did. You wonder if, in the same circumstances, you might have done the same. Howard Ingham's actions, though he made some poor decisions, just didn't pack the same punch as Ripley's. Also there is no forgery. Misleading title alert!! For a while Ingham communicates with his friends in New York only by mail and I had hopes for some elaborate forgery conducted by a mysterious nemesis to misinform and mess with his mind, while he was alone, vulnerable and isolated. Unfortunately I was mistaken on this point.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kate.

    The Stranger, The Cure, and Tremor of a Forgery: it’s an existential trifecta. In life, sings The Cure, “I can turn and walk away / Or I can fire the gun / Staring at the sky staring at the sun / Whichever I choose / It amounts to the same: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.” So discovers Howard Ingham, just like Meursault before him. But unlike Meursault, Howard Ingham's moral Arab-killing dilemma in the North African desert is plagued by a hyper awareness that his values --thus, himself?-- are different when The Stranger, The Cure, and Tremor of a Forgery: it’s an existential trifecta. In life, sings The Cure, “I can turn and walk away / Or I can fire the gun / Staring at the sky staring at the sun / Whichever I choose / It amounts to the same: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.” So discovers Howard Ingham, just like Meursault before him. But unlike Meursault, Howard Ingham's moral Arab-killing dilemma in the North African desert is plagued by a hyper awareness that his values --thus, himself?-- are different when in Tunisia. I wonder is this really existentialism (awesome) or just situational ethics (boring)? While other Americans skate happily through the moral spiderwebs of infidelity and suicide and political pomposity, Ingham’s late night tussle with an Arab burglar leaves him sweating in a hovel, losing his girl, and then blissfully flying back to the States to begin all over again. Whether he confesses to the murder, whether he breaks this girl’s heart, whether his hand does indeed tremor in hesitation before and after every misdeed… well, I guess it all amounts to the same: absolutely nothing.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Beckham

    The typical Highsmith tale takes place within a set that is largely shrouded in shadows. This technique is not without purpose, for it casts into sharper focus the actors centre stage. And it reflects the skill of the author that she requires so few props to hold the attention of the audience. I was struck, therefore, by the contrast in this novel – a story placed in 1970s Tunisia – for the limelight is more equally shared around. It is much more of a travelogue. However, that the surroundings co The typical Highsmith tale takes place within a set that is largely shrouded in shadows. This technique is not without purpose, for it casts into sharper focus the actors centre stage. And it reflects the skill of the author that she requires so few props to hold the attention of the audience. I was struck, therefore, by the contrast in this novel – a story placed in 1970s Tunisia – for the limelight is more equally shared around. It is much more of a travelogue. However, that the surroundings come to life is not mere gratuitous padding, as the oppressive heat and sinister local population combine to build pressure upon the protagonists and amplify the growing mood of suspense. There are two main strands to the plot. Firstly: boy gets girl, boy loses girl... will boy get girl back? And secondly: man commits accidental killing... or does he... and will he be turned in by his unpredictable compatriot? These storylines become cleverly interwoven, and – unlike all other Highsmiths I have read – the final twist comes at the very end. (On reflection, perhaps that was her Editor's doing.)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    This is Highsmith at her amoral best. While your spine crawls with inexplicable dread, you find yourself becoming complicit with the crimes in the book. very disturbing read. very claustrophobic.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Least Torque

    This novel was a seriously slow burn, slow to the extent that I almost abandoned it. Fortunately I hung in and was entranced as it took a turn into perhaps the most suspenseful novel I’ve ever read. I kept thinking of the title of a book of essays, “prisons we choose to live inside”. The inner dialog of the protagonist just fascinated me as he pondered and rambled across a varied terrain of moral fluidity, interpersonal complexities, religion, foreign influences, human worth, dependence, profess This novel was a seriously slow burn, slow to the extent that I almost abandoned it. Fortunately I hung in and was entranced as it took a turn into perhaps the most suspenseful novel I’ve ever read. I kept thinking of the title of a book of essays, “prisons we choose to live inside”. The inner dialog of the protagonist just fascinated me as he pondered and rambled across a varied terrain of moral fluidity, interpersonal complexities, religion, foreign influences, human worth, dependence, profession, and alienation. And of course there was the relationship of the author to the fiction he produces.

  27. 4 out of 5

    oshizu

    This book is available free from Amazon's Prime Library program, which is where I found it. It is my first book by this author and, if her other mysteries are like this one, probably my last. The book is set in Tunisia but focused almost entirely on its expats. 2.5 stars and I'm wavering between rounding down or rounding up.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Flannery Francis

    Although it was written in 1969, this book is relevant for 2018. Against the arid backdrop of Tunisia, The Tremor of Forgery addresses Middle East conflict, American involvement in controversial wars, and judgmental morality. This book was delicious.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Gillian

    4.5 stars. My favourite kind of escape reading; psychological suspense, tight prose, believable characters, terrific atmosphere. Definitely not the last time I'll read a novel by Patricia Highsmith. Why did I wait so long?

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    In her 2011 introduction to THE TREMOR OF FORGERY, Francine Prose says she believes the 1969 novel to be Patricia Highsmith’a finest. No small thing. That this is a claim made by others as well—including an anonymous blurber on the current Grove edition’s front cover speaking on behalf on THE NEW YORKER—is noteworthy. Anybody of learning and sense knows Highsmith is the most surpassingly great writer of suspense novels to’ve e’er toiled in the maybe-slightly-disreputable field. Quod erat demonst In her 2011 introduction to THE TREMOR OF FORGERY, Francine Prose says she believes the 1969 novel to be Patricia Highsmith’a finest. No small thing. That this is a claim made by others as well—including an anonymous blurber on the current Grove edition’s front cover speaking on behalf on THE NEW YORKER—is noteworthy. Anybody of learning and sense knows Highsmith is the most surpassingly great writer of suspense novels to’ve e’er toiled in the maybe-slightly-disreputable field. Quod erat demonstrandum: Highsmith at her most surpassing would appear to indicate excellence beyond the threshold of established measurements. Well, okay, maybe best to contain ourselves. In the aforementioned introduction, Prose pinpoints how, for the confirmed Highsmith fanatic, part of the pleasure, when setting out with a Highsmith as yet unread, rests in enjoying familiarity with the author’s templates. Which of the templates will any given book exploit? “Is this the kind in which an innocent or semi-innocent man accidentally or compulsively commits a crime, and the spends the rest of the book committing more crimes to cover up the first one? Or it [sic] one of those in which an innocent or semi-innocent man has the misfortune to encounter a garden-variety grifter or an extraordinary sociopath, with whom he becomes involved in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game that he turns out to be better at—and to enjoy more—than he would have predicted? Or is it one of the Highsmith novels in which a disturbed loner has his particular weirdness pretty much under control until some unexpected event makes it painfully clear how bizarre and suspicious his behaviour might appear to a stranger?” Not only do I know what Prose is getting at here, I basically totally agree, and I have more or less said the same thing repeatedly in the past. The last time I wrote at length about Highsmith I reduced the basic templates to two rather than three: novels "that detail, often with something close to controlled glee, the aberrant stratagems of twisted minds (DEEP WATER, A SUSPENSION OF MERCY),” or “the cat-and-mouse thrillers (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, A GAME FOR THE LIVING, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY, THOSE WHO WALK AWAY).” I went on to make a point of insisting, as does Prose, that there is almost always some slippage between the templates. The most obvious example is probably THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, Highsmith’s best known and most beloved novel. The first and the third of the templates that Prose articulates are very much about “aberrant stratagems.” In indicating somewhat understatedly that the “innocent” heroes are often or usually at best “semi-innocent,” Prose comes very close to informing us that these are usually obsequious characters whose “minds” we might call a little “twisted.” I have as of now read ten Highsmith novels. I read (and loved) the first of these probably twenty years ago. (I’ve been portioning out these singular delights judiciously!) The stratagems employed by Highsmith’s protagonists, all of them varying degrees of twisted (and often increasingly twisted as the screws tighten), are predicated on secrecy and the adoption of an adversarial position in relation to what we might call common values, such that I have regularly made the case that Highsmith is an author very much apart of the wider world of literary modernism, hardly merely a skilled exploiter of pulp idiom. The private schemes and the secrecy of her protagonists, as well as the fundamentally adversarial (often even outright antisocial) nature of such business, seem to me a matter of alienation and of anomie. I would tend to argue that such business is considerably refined in the later Highsmiths. Published in 1969, as I have said, THE TREMOR OF FORGERY arrives nineteen years and thirteen novels into Highsmith’s career. I believe it begins to mark the perfection of a mature mode I see evident in other later novels such as EDITH’S DIARY (1977) and FOUND IN THE STREET (1986). There are multiple reasons for my making this assertion, but first and foremost I believe it a matter of control, confidence, and something approximating restraint. The suspense tale is usually a tale that involves what critical orthodoxy denotes “rising action,” and it is commonplace, largely on account of the influence of popular motion pictures, to think of “rising action” in terms of the three act structure. That’s not how these later Highsmith novels operate, or at least not quite. About one hundred pages into THE TREMOR OF FORGERY I noted how much time Highsmith was spending with the setup. Not long thereafter I was struck by something crucial: her novels are increasingly all setup, everything building toward the finale. It were as though these novels were conceived of not in terms of three acts, but rather as one breathtaking and expertly modulated act. Though you might say this is already largely the case in a novel like 1957’s DEEP WATER, the later stuff if where the mode attains its zenith, arriving at subtle mastery. Notably, like EDITH’S DIARY and FOUND IN THE STREET, there are not terribly many corpses or all that much actual mayhem in THE TREMOR OF FORGERY. What remains are the stratagems of alienated intelligences within methodically constructed and highly pressurized situations. THE TREMOR OF FORGERY tells the story of Howard Ingham, an American writer who resides in New York, where, on account of the success of his third novel, he keeps a nice (if small) apartment on West Fourth Street, near Washington Square. As the novel commences, Ingham finds himself in Tunisia, where he has been sent by a prospective collaborator named John Castlewood who hopes Ingham will craft a screenplay for a project titled TRIO, which it is believed needs to be set in Tunisia because the behaviour of the amorous antagonists would not be terribly credible in an American context. Back in New York, Ingham has a love interest of his own, Ina Pallant, and he is not quite sure where things stand between the two of them. There is also the matter of Charlotte (or Lotte), a woman to whom Ingham was briefly married and to whom he retains unresolved feelings (which would appear to be exacerbated by what we might call psychological hangups). Ingham lands first in Tunis, where he spends some time wandering around, speaking French to locals with a serviceable grasp of the language. Tiring of Tunis, he will move on to the slightly more remote Hammamet and a hotel called La Reine de Hammamet. The idea is that John Castlewood is supposed to join Ingham shortly, but this does not come to pass, and Ingham grows increasingly agitated in the foreign and totally unfamiliar environment, a great deal of time having passed without his having received word from either Castlewood or Ina. This is the setup of the setup. I am not going to give too much away. Typically one does not want one's suspense novels spoiled. I will say only that Ina does eventually show up in Tunisia, that the absence of Castlewood is explained, and that all of this can only produce further complications, these generally being complications of a sort that no reader is likely to predict, especially should that reader be expecting a whole lot of wild mayhem. Before Ina does show up, Ingham establishes relationships with three key people: Francis J. Adams of Connecticut (but originally, it would seem, from Indiana), or OWL (Our Way of Life), a friendly and good-natured advocate of American values, anti-communist, claiming he has been recruited by dissident Soviets to covertly spread folksy radio propaganda behind the Iron Curtain; the attractive servant boy Mokta, about seventeen years of age or thereabouts, who Ingham would appear to intuit is far more cunning an operator than he lets on; and Anders Jensen, queer Dane with German police dog, whose somewhat bitter worldview seems to rub off on Ingham and with whom Ingham will eventually become something like roommates, moving from his comfy Reine de Hammamet bungalow to an eminently Arabian squat, the toilet a hole in the floor, where he occupies the floor beneath Jensen, working to complete a novel commenced whilst killing time, waiting, in Tunisia. We speak of the ubiquity of the slippage between templates or idioms in Highsmith, and for a time we do very much sense that the relationship between Ingham and OWL (as Francis Adams becomes known as a matter of course) has all the hallmarks of cat-and-mouse. Just look at this exquisite paragraph, itself a kind of Highsmith novel in miniature: “Ingham went back to his bungalow, put on swimming trunks, and went for a swim. He saw Adams at some distance, bearing his spear, but managed to avoid Adams’s seeing him. Adams always went for a swim before lunch, he said.” It is pure predator/prey tableau (involving secretive, unreturned gaze), and it is a lovely bit of Highsmith brilliance that insinuates that space-time disrupting “he said,” its representing a kind of enjambment, splicing in with ersatz immediacy a statement made in the past. Indeed, there is some cat-and-mouse afoot, but it is part of how the novel sets us up to imagine the possibility of dramatic fireworks it intends to scrupulously withhold. Mostly THE TREMOR OF FORGERY is with Ingham and sticks close. We remain intimately close to his thinking, his anxiety, and his unusual inertia. Highsmith almost always writes in a third-person that is not properly omniscient in that it is careful to keep fixed on the cogitation of her protagonist and refrain from providing us with information to which the protagonist is not privy. Ingham’s mental state increasingly becomes affected by his new environment. “Ingham was thirty-four, slightly over six feet tall, with light brown hair and blue eyes, and he moved rather slowly.” We are told this early in the novel, on page four. This “moved rather slowly” business is already telling us a good deal. This is a man both moving slowly and also extremely impatient, compulsively checking to see if mail has arrived, fussy and distracted, but slow, like a stalking predator. Later, page twenty, a kind of slow metamorphosis already underway: “The days began to drag. They dragged for two days, then Ingham picked up mentally, or perhaps slowed down, so that he didn’t mind the dragging. He was making some progress in planning his novel, and had the first three chapters clearly in mind.” Eating less, its being so hot, Ingham is starting to lose weight. There is a paradoxical double-movement at play, a slowing down indistinguishable in a sense from a speeding up. He writes to Ina: “Africa is strangely good for thinking. It’s like standing naked in glaring sunlight against a white wall. Somehow nothing is hidden in this bright light…” Later, the narrator making us privy to his thinking: “This was the true sun, the ancient fire that seemed to reduce one’s lifespan to a second and one’s personal problems to a minuscule absurdity.” Ingham constantly interrogates his own thinking. We are treated to endless variations on: this is the situation…or is it?….I feel such-and-such…or do I?….He thinks about his own thinking, rolls it around, and he thinks about the thinking of others, projects it at them, practices in his mind strategies that might succeed in outthinking thinking it is only he himself who is actually thinking. The title of THE TREMOR OF FORGERY is for a time the working title of the novel Ingham is working on in Tunisia, though Ingham will replace it with another. The title refers to tremors that can be detected in the handwriting of forgers, a symptom that Ingham imagines might be shown to indicate the point of origin of a larger crack-up to come. Is this what is happening to Ingham? As he as Jensen become more bitter, coming to express disdain for Arabs and their apparent lack of a sense of the sanctity of anything whatsoever, this eventually develops into Ingham's feeling at times “a detached disgust for the whole human race.” Through the entirety of the novel, closing paragraph notwithstanding, Ingham, whose surname is itself like the front end of some vehicular verb crashing into a ham, will experience “delayed reactions”…“fuzziness, or inversion of things”… “The throb of loss, or maybe of lust or maybe love…” Ingham is aware of Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. His thinking refers certain matters back to CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and the superman. (“Highsmithian” at Wordpress has provided a hilariously elaborate ‘pataphysical explanation for what they call the "Porfyrivitch mystery,” the simpler explanation for which is that it’s simply amusing to Highsmith to have her self-compromisingly self-regarding protagonist errantly say "Porfyrivitch" when he means "Porfiry Petrovich.”) The novel he is writing goes there too: it is setting out to decide if our moral/ethical values are determined by us or if they are exclusively a product of social conditioning, Ingham dabbling in what Nietzsche called the transvaluation of values. As with most everything else of importance, “this is the situation…or is it?” is how Ingham increasingly operates as an ethical being. In an alien land, the question of one’s programming takes on a new aspect, exposed, in this case, to that bright, "glaring" African light. “It seemed to be OWL’s point that one carried around a set of morals one had been brought up to believe in. But was it true? To what extent did they remain, to what extent could one act on them, if they were not the morals of the people by whom one was surrounded?” Though the situation is highly pressurized, and we might expect the Ingham-OWL cat-and-mouse business to get heated, Highsmith’s genius is in fact to locate an interstice whereby the two men's competing domains and offset stratagems my well arrive at a powerful unexpected confluence, a radical and highly unusual synergy. What does that look like? Perhaps the destiny machine is producing hope rather than doom, and perhaps the unconscious is but its agent. What for most of the novel seems most perverse or even aberrant about Ingham is simply his continuing to stay on in Tunisia. The powerful revelation (it gave me a brain orgasm) is that he stays because he is meant to. Francine Prose is especially fond of THE TREMOR OF FORGERY on account of the novel’s historical specificity, much of this having to do with the Vietnam and Six-Day wars going on in the background. And of course we have the Turks and the Greeks in Tunisia before the French. We may like to consider the word “adventurism.” What seems most radical to me is that this novel published in 1969 and set in the summer 1967, the calamities and chaotic unrest of 1968 spavined between those two years, is clearly about the radical assertion of hope on terms that can only be hope’s. But of course. Hope's terms can be of no other. A crucial caveat: if our destiny is hopeful, it still needs us to squirm a good deal in service to its realization.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.