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Category: Crime fiction
Format: Paperback – from local independent bookshop
Content Warnings: Violence, adultery
Victor Van Allen is proud of the ordered life he has created for himself. He runs a sought-after printing press, holds a respected position in the town, and is the father of a precocious little girl.
The only taint to this perfect facade is his wife, Melinda. Their relationship is tenuously held together by Vic sleeping in a separate room and pretending to ignore her involvements with other men. Yet a new arrival in the sleepy town of Little Wesley means Vic may not be able to look the other way for much longer…
First Page Impressions
Like most people, crime fiction makes me think ‘plot’, so I was initially surprised at how character-centric Deep Water is. The source of the novel’s uniqueness is the detached and eccentric first-person narrator, Vic, whose perspective sets readers off-balance from the start.
Some may find this character-driven approach sets too slow a pace for a crime novel, but I came to appreciate the thick atmosphere of suspicion and repression Highsmith infuses into her seemingly innocuous small-town setting.
Final Page Reflections
It is not a series of shocking twists that kept Deep Water holding onto my attention, but the complex and dark relationships between characters, particularly Vic and his wife Melinda.
While both characters are deeply unlikeable, Highsmith rendered them so skillfully that I did feel a twinge of sympathy for each side in this tense and loveless relationship. Something about their decaying marriage is just so morbidly compelling.
Diversity and Representation
Deep Water does feature an independent and passionate woman as a main character, but since readers are never given her perspective we are forced to see her through the narrator’s male gaze.
Through this character, unhelpful misogynistic stereotypes are also perpetuated, of women as unhinged, manipulative and impossible to satisfy.
- Love and desire
- Gender roles
Beyond the Book
As mentioned above, although Deep Water is written by a woman, it also contains harmful misogynistic stereotypes.
This contradiction caused me to ask myself: does a woman writer have responsibility towards other women?
Or can she write whatever the heck she wants, milking the proceeds that are certainly her due for overcoming biased publishing and becoming a successful female author in the 1950s?
Side note: a film adaptation of Deep Water was released earlier this year (April 2020) and it updates the novel to centralise female experiences rather than marginalising them. You can watch the movie trailer here:
- Did you enjoy reading a character-driven crime novel? Have you read books of this type in the past? Would you seek out similar reads in the future?
- Do you believe women writers have a responsibility to challenge misogyny through their books?
- Would you agree that the characters in this novel are unlikeable? Are there any that you liked or identified with? Did you feel sympathy for certain characters
“Vic didn’t mind at all being considered odd… he was proud of it in a country in which most people aimed at being exactly like everybody else.”
Read if: You’re looking for a classic crime fiction novel with character.
Buy Now from Better World Books:
Check out my review of another fantastic book by Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley.
Have you read Deep Water? What are your go-to crime fiction recommendations? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!