‘In the Dead of Truffle Season’ by Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith’s collection, An Animal-Lover’s Guide to Beastly Murder, is predominantly narrated by animals taking their sweet revenge on some deserving human. The humans are all odious, and the animals Ripley-esque in their desire to right wrongs and (more importantly) perceived slights. The animals are just as prickly as Highsmith’s humans are, and it makes for a collection which is delightfully unhinged.

When authors begin to write dialogue in animal noises, I’ve usually considered it to be a sign to stop reading (the main culprits here are Enid Blyton and late Agatha Christie, and it’s usually dogs.) Highsmith’s truffle-hunting pig Samson carries out conversations which appear on the page like this:

“Oink!—oink oink!”
“Whuff-f!”
“Hwon-nk!”  

And

 “‘Hwun-nf!—Ha-wun-nf! Umpf!’ Samson had found a good cache and he knew it.”

Highsmith, I will always contend, is a very funny writer who too often worked against rather than with her own off-kilter humour. Each em-dash and italicisation here is lovingly placed. I’m not sorry we didn’t get a longer-form version of the pig-conversations, but how many other writers would commit to the pageantry of this?

Published in An Animal-Lover’s Guide to Beastly Murder, Heinemann, 1975; also available from Norton, 2002

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