Review of ‘Small g: a Summer Idyll’ by Patricia Highsmith

My first Highsmith read was, oddly, the last book she wrote. It was published posthumously in 1995. I’m sure it can’t be one of her best and actually I have her most famous book, The Talented Mr Ripley, on my shelf. I bought them both at the same time from a charity shop. However, the random generator landed on Small g and so I began with that one.

The story is set in Zürich in (I assumed) the early 90s. It revolves around a number of friends, lovers and enemies who are regulars at Jakob’s, a gay-friendly bar. Narrated in the third person, it mainly follows 40-something Rickie, a commercial artist, and Luisa, a teenaged apprentice seamstress. Other significant characters include Renate, homophobic disabled villain of the story and Luisa’s employer; Willi, a man with learning difficulties who spies for Renate; and Lulu, the performing dog belonging to Rickie.

It is difficult to describe the plot, because there isn’t much of one! I thought it began quite well, with the promise of a murder mystery, but this seemed to be forgotten about. There was an attack on one of the characters later on, which again was never solved. The novel might be about finding one’s sexual identity and being happy with it, yet somehow everything was superficial and I didn’t get to know the characters. Much of the action was mundane, such as phoning people, leaving messages, asking for phone numbers, trying to decide between Coca Cola or beer, what colour ‘slacks’ to wear, taking a shower… Not exactly riveting stuff from an author known for writing suspense. The dialogue was also stilted, perhaps because there’s a suggestion that the characters are speaking Swiss German translated into English.

Not recommended unless you’re a Highsmith completist, or unless you’re looking specifically for books set in Switzerland or for LGBT representation in 90s fiction.

This edition published by Virago, 2016.

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