The Tremor of Forgery is considered by many to be Patricia Highsmith's finest novel. Set in Tunisia in the mid-1960s, it is the story of Howard Ingham, an American writer who has gone abroad to gather material for a movie too sordid to be set in America. Ingham is cool towards Ina, the girlfriend he left behind in New York, but his feelings start to change when she doesn't answer his increasingly aggravated letters, and John Castlewood, the filmmaker who hired Ingham, fails to show in Tunisia. Amid the tea shops and alleys of the souk, the sun-blasted architecture, and the beaches and hotels frequented by international tourists, will Ingham’s morality survive the withering heat? Includes an introduction by Francine Prose.
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About the Author
Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) was an American author known for her novels of psychological suspense. She wrote over two dozen books and short story collections, including her five Tom Ripley novels. Her first book Strangers on a Train was nominated for an Edgar Award and was later adapted into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. Many of her works have been adapted for the screen, including The Talented Mr. Ripley and most recently The Price of Salt which was renamed Carol.
Date of Birth:January 19, 1921
Date of Death:February 4, 1995
Place of Birth:Fort Worth, Texas
Place of Death:Locarno, Switzerland
Education:B.A., Barnard College, 1942
Read an Excerpt
"You're sure there's no letter for me?" Ingham asked. "Howard Ingham. I-n-g-h-am." 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 cubbyhole marked I–J, and shook his head. "Non, m'sieur."
"Merci," Ingham said with a polite smile. It was the second time he had asked, but it was a different clerk. He had asked ten minutes ago when he arrived at the Hotel Tunisia Palace. Ingham had hoped for a letter from John Castlewood. Or from Ina. He had been away from New York five days now, having flown first to Paris to see his agent there, and just to take another look at Paris.
Ingham lit a cigarette and glanced around the lobby. It was carpeted with oriental rugs, and air-conditioned. The clientele looked mostly French and American, but there were a few rather dark-faced Arabs in Western business suits. The Tunisia Palace had been recommended by John. It was probably the best in town, Ingham thought.
He went out through the glass doors on to the pavement. It was early June, nearly 6 p.m., and the air was warm, the slanting sunlight still bright. John had suggested the Café de Paris for a pre-lunch or -dinner drink, and there it was, across the street and at the second corner, on the Boulevard Bourguiba. Ingham walked on to the boulevard, and bought a Paris Herald-Tribune. The rather broad avenue had a tree-bordered, cement-paved division down its middle on which people could walk. Here were the newspaper and tobacco kiosks, the shoeshine boys. To Ingham, it looked something between a Mexico City street and a Paris street, but the French had had a hand in both Mexico City and Tunis. Snatches of shouted conversation around him gave him no clue as to meaning. He had a phrase book called Easy Arabic in one of his suitcases at the hotel. Arabic would obviously have to be memorized, because it bore no relation to anything he knew.
Ingham walked across the street to the Café de Paris. It had pavement tables, all occupied. People stared at him, perhaps because he was a new face. There were many Americans and English, and they had the expressions of people who had been here some time and were a little bored. Ingham had to stand at the bar. He ordered a Pernod, and looked at his newspaper. The place was noisy. He spotted a table and took it.
People idled along the pavement, staring at the equally blank faces in the café. Ingham watched especially the younger people, because he was on an assignment to write a film script about two young people in love, or rather three, since there was a second young man who didn't get the girl. Ingham saw no boy and girl walking along, only single young men or pairs of boys holding hands and talking earnestly. John had told Ingham about the closeness of the boys. Homosexual relationships had no stigma here, but that had nothing to do with the script. Young people of opposite sex were often chaperoned or at least spied upon. There was a lot to learn, and Ingham's job in the next week or so until John arrived was to keep his eyes open and absorb the atmosphere. John knew a couple of families here, and Ingham would be able to see inside a middle-class Tunisian home. The story was to have the minimum of written dialogue, but still something had to be written. Ingham had done some television writing, but he considered himself a novelist. He had some trepidations about this job. But John was confident, and the arrangements were informal. Ingham had signed nothing. Castlewood had advanced him a thousand dollars, and Ingham was scrupulously using the money only for business expenses. Quite a bit of it would go on the car he was supposed to hire for a month. He must get the car tomorrow morning, he thought, so he could begin looking around.
"Merci, non," Ingham said to a peddler who approached him with a longstemmed, tightly bound flower. The over-sweet scent lingered in the air. The peddler had a handful, and was pushing about among the tables yelling, "Yes meen?" He wore a red fez and a limp, lavender jubbah so thin one could see a pair of whitish underpants.
At one table, a fat man twiddled his jasmine, holding the blossom under his nose. He seemed in a trance, his eyes almost crossed with his daydream. Was he awaiting a girl or only thinking of one? Ten minutes later, Ingham decided he was awaiting no one. The man had finished what looked like a colorless soda pop. He wore a light grey business suit. Ingham supposed he was middle-class, even a bit upper. Perhaps he made thirty or more dinars per week, sixty-three dollars or more. Ingham had been boning up on such things for a month. Bourguiba was tactfully trying to extricate his people from the reactionary bonds of their religion. He had abolished polygamy officially, and disapproved of the veil for women. As African countries went, Tunisia was the most advanced. They were trying to persuade all French businessmen to leave, but still depended to a great extent on French monetary aid.
Ingham was thirty-four, slightly over six feet tall, with light brown hair and blue eyes, and he moved rather slowly. Although he never bothered about exercise, he had a good physique with broad shoulders, long legs and strong hands. He had been born in Florida, but considered himself a New Yorker, because he had lived in New York since the age of eight. After college — the University of Pennsylvania — he had worked for a newspaper in Philadelphia and written fiction on the side, without much luck until his first book, The Power of Negative Thinking, a rather flippant and juvenile spoof of positive thinking, in which his pair of negative-thinking heroes emerged covered in glory, money and success. On the strength of this, Ingham had quit journalism, and had had two or three rocky years. His second book, The Gathering Swine, had not been so well received as the first book. Then he had married a wealthy girl, Charlotte Fleet, with whom he had been very much in love, but he had not availed himself of her money, and her wealth in fact had been a handicap. The marriage had ended after two years. Now and again, Ingham sold a television play or a short story, and he had kept going in a modest apartment in Manhattan. This year, in February, he had had a breakthrough. His book The Game of "If" had been bought for a film for $50,000. Ingham suspected it had been bought more for the crazy love story in it than for its intellectual content or message (the necessity and validity of wishful thinking), but no matter, it had been bought, and for the first time Ingham was enjoying a taste of financial security. He had declined an invitation to write the film script of The Game of "If." He thought film scripts, even television plays, were not his forte, and The Game was a difficult book for him to think of in film terms.
John Castlewood's idea for Trio was simpler and more visual. The young man who didn't get the girl married someone else, but wreaked vengeance on his successful rival in a most horrible way, first seducing his wife, then ruining the husband's business, then seeing that the husband was murdered. Such things could scarcely happen in America, Ingham supposed, but this was in Tunisia. John Castlewood had enthusiasm, and he knew Tunisia. And John had known Ingham and had invited him to try the script. They had a producer named Miles Gallust. Ingham thought that if he felt he wasn't getting anywhere, wasn't capable, he would tell John, give back the thousand dollars, and John could find someone else. John had done two good films on small budgets, and the first, The Grievance, had had the better success. That had been set in Mexico. The second had been about Texas oil-riggers, and Ingham had forgotten the title. John was twenty-six, full of energy and the kind of faith that went with not knowing much about the world as yet, or so Ingham thought. Ingham felt that John had a future better, more than likely, than his own would be. Ingham was at an age when he knew his potentialities and limitations. John Castlewood did not know his as yet, and perhaps was not the type ever to think about them or recognize them, which might be all to the good.
Ingham paid his bill, and went back to his hotel room for a jacket. He was getting hungry. He glanced again at the two letters in the box marked I–J, and at the empty cubbyhole under his hanging key. "Vingt-six, s'il vous plaît," he said, and took the key.
Again taking John's advice, Ingham went to the Restaurant du Paradis in the rue du Paradis, which was between his hotel and the Café de Paris. Later, he wandered around the town, and had a couple of café exprès standing at counters in cafés where there were no tourists. The patrons were all men in these places. The barman understood his French, but Ingham did not hear anyone else speaking French.
He had thought to write a letter to Ina when he got back to his hotel, but he felt too tired, or perhaps uninspired. He went to bed and read some of a William Golding novel that he had brought from America. Before he fell asleep, he thought of the girl who had flirted with him — mildly — in the Café de Paris. She had been blonde, a trifle chubby, but very attractive. Ingham had thought she might be German (the man with her could have been anything), and he had felt pleased when he heard her talking French with the man as they went out. Vanity, Ingham thought. He should be thinking about Ina. She was certainly thinking about him. At any rate, Tunisia was going to be a splendid place not to think anymore about Lotte. Thank God, he had almost stopped. It had been a year and six months since his divorce, but sometimes to Ingham it seemed like only six months, or even two.CHAPTER 2
The next morning, when there was again no letter for him, it occurred to Ingham that John and Ina might have written to him at the Hotel du Golfe in Hammamet, where John had suggested he should stay. Ingham had not yet made a reservation there, and he supposed he should for the 5th or 6th of June. John had said, "Look around Tunis for a few days. The characters are going to live in Tunis. ... I don't think you'd like to work there. It'll be hot, and you can't swim unless you go to Sidi Bou Said. We'll work in Hammamet. Terrific beach for an afternoon swim, and no city noises...."
After a whole day of walking and driving about Tunis, enduring also the long closure of everything except restaurants from noon or twelve-thirty until four, Ingham was ready to go to Hammamet tomorrow. But he thought as soon as he got to Hammamet, he would reproach himself for not having seen enough of Tunis, so he decided to stay on two more days. On one of those days, he drove to Sidi Bou Said, sixteen kilometers away, had a swim and took lunch at a rather chic hotel, as there were no independent restaurants. It was a very clean town of chalk-white houses and bright-blue shutters and doors.
There had been no room free at the Golfe when Ingham had telephoned the day before, but the manager had suggested another hotel in Hammamet. Ingham went to the other hotel, which he found too Hollywood in atmosphere, and at last put himself up at a hotel called La Reine de Hammamet. All the hotels had beaches on the Gulf of Hammamet, but were set back fifty yards or more from the water. The Reine had a large main building, gardens of lime and lemon and bougainvillea, and also fifteen or twenty bungalows of varying sizes, each given privacy by the leaves of citrus trees. The bungalows had kitchens, but Ingham was not in the mood to start housekeeping, so he took a room in the main building with a view on the sea. He immediately went down for a swim.
There were not many people on the beach at this hour, though the sun was still above the horizon. Ingham saw a couple of empty beach chairs. He didn't know if one had to rent them or not, but he assumed they belonged to the hotel, so he took one. He put on his sunglasses — another thought of John Castlewood, who had made him a present of these — and pulled a paperback out of his robe pocket. After fifteen minutes, he was asleep, or at least in a doze. My God, he thought, my God, it's quiet and beautiful and warm....
"Hello! Good evening! — You an American?"
The loud voice startled Ingham like a gunshot, and he sat up in his chair. "Yes."
"Excuse me interrupting your reading. I'm an American, too. From Connecticut." He was a man of fifty or so, grayish-haired, balding, with a slight bulge at his waistline, and with an enviable tan. He was not very tall.
"New York here," Ingham said. "I hope I haven't taken your chair."
"Ha-ha! No! But the boys'll be collecting them in another half-hour or so. Have to put 'em away, or they wouldn't be here tomorrow morning!"
Lonely, Ingham thought. Or had he a wife just as chummy? But one could be lonely with that, too. The man was looking out at the sea, standing only two yards from Ingham.
"My name's Adams. Francis J. Adams." He said it as if he were proud of it.
"Mine's Howard Ingham."
"What do you think of Tunisia?" Adams asked with his friendly smile that bulged his brown cheeks.
"Very attractive. Hammamet, anyway."
"I think so. Best to have a car to get around in. Sousse and Djerba, places like that. Got a car?"
"Yes, I have."
"Good. Well —" He was backing, taking his leave. "Drop in and see me some time. My bungalow's just up the slope there. Number ten. Any of the boys can tell you which is mine. Just ask for Adams. Come in and have a drink some evening. Bring your wife, if you have one."
"Thanks very much," Ingham said. "No, I'm alone."
Adams nodded, and waved. "See you again."
Ingham sat on another five minutes, then got up. He took a shower in his room, then went downstairs to the bar. It was a large bar with red Persian carpeting that covered the floor. A middle-aged couple were speaking French. Another table of three was British. There were only seven or eight people in the room, a few of them watching television in the corner.
A man came from the television set to the British table and said in a voice without excitement, "The Israelis have blasted a dozen airports."
"Egypt. Or maybe Jordan. The Arabs are going to be a pushover."
"That news came through in French?" asked another of the Englishmen.
Ingham stood at the bar. The war was on apparently. Tunisia was quite a distance from the fighting. Ingham hoped it wouldn't interfere with work plans. But the Tunisians were Arabs, and there was going to be some anti-Western emotion, he knew, if the Arabs lost, and of course they would lose. He must get a Paris paper tomorrow.
Ingham avoided the beach for the next couple of days, and took some drives into the country. The Israelis were mopping up the Arabs, and twenty-five airbases had been destroyed on Monday, the day the war broke out. A Paris paper reported a few cars with Western license plates overturned in a street in Tunis, and also the windows of the U.S.I.S. library broken on the Boulevard Bourguiba. Ingham did not go to Tunis. He went to the town of Naboul, north-east of Hammamet, and to Bir Bou Rekba inland, and to a few other tiny towns, dusty and poor, whose names he could not remember easily. He ran into a market morning at one, and walked about among camels, pottery, baubles and pins, cotton clothing and straw mats, all spread out on coarse sheets on the ground. People jostled him, which Ingham did not like. The Arabs didn't mind human contact, and on the contrary needed it, Ingham had read. That was everywhere apparent in the souk. The jewelry in the market was shoddy, but inspired Ingham to go to a good shop and buy a silver pin for ma, a flat triangle which fastened with a circle. They came in all sizes. Since the box was so small for posting, Ingham bought also an embroidered red vest for her — a man's garment, but so fancy, it would look very feminine in America. He posted them the afternoon of the same day, after much time-killing, waiting for the post office in Hammamet to open at 4 p.m. The post office was open only one hour in the afternoon, according to a sign outside.
On the fourth day at the Reine, he wrote to John Castlewood. John lived on West Fifty-third Street in Manhattan.
June 8, 19 —
Hammamet is as pretty as you said. A magnificent beach. Are you still arriving the 13th? I am ready to get to work here, chatting with strangers at every opportunity, but the kind of people you want don't always know much French. I visited Les Arcades last night. [This was a coffee-house a mile or so from the Reine.](Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Tremor of Forgery"
Copyright © 1993 Diogenes Verlag AG, Zurich.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I've read about everything Patricia Highsmith has ever written and she remains one of my favorite authors. She is perhaps best known for the Ripley books and Strangers on a Train. (Alfred Hitchcock reportedly cheated her when he purchased the rights for Strangers on a Train and she was not well-compensated for her work.) I know that I have read this book in the past but look forward to a second reading and having it available on my Nook. Some of you are perhaps familiar with her well-known short story, "The Lottery," found in many high school anthologies.
Highsmith, great as usual. My obsession with her writing continues.
This was my first Highsmith after reading so much about her. I agree she writes well. Maybe in past times what she wrote might have been interesting. To me it the pace was slow and boring and the psychological insights less than eye-opening.