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Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith | VMC40

As part of our Virago Modern Classics 40th anniversary celebrations, the Virago team have each chosen a favourite title from the #VMC40 series. Each month, we will introduce the book and share with you why we love it.

This December our #VMC40 book of the month is Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith

Deep Water

By Patricia Highsmith


‘Vic didn’t dance, but not for the reasons that most men who don’t dance give to themselves. He didn’t dance simply because his wife liked to dance.’


Reading this book made me believe that Patricia Highsmith is a magician. It’s a book about infidelity, jealousy, lies and murder – and yet it frequently made me laugh out loud. It’s a story about two people who act like they hate each other and yet don’t want to stop being married to each other. The protagonist is obsessed with the mundane (snails, bed bugs, printing presses) and yet the book is riveting. The protagonist is almost certainly a psychopath and yet you can’t help but root for him.

The setting – a close-knit, sociable, attractive New England town which has a very dark underbelly – is delicious and made me think of another American classic story of sex, secrets and lies, The Crucible. The endless stream of parties, dinners, cocktails, furtive phone calls, beautiful dresses and secretive drives lend the novel a wonderful glamour.

I found that I could only read this book after sundown – it’s so chilling that reading it in daylight seemed quite wrong – but once the light had faded, I couldn’t put it down.


Sarah Savitt, Publisher, Virago


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“Melinda had been odd, too, or he never would have married her.”

Reading Group Questions:

  1. Vic and Melinda’s marriage is not one that many people would want to be in. Why does Vic stay with Melinda – and vice versa?
  2. Melinda flaunts the fact that she has many lovers. Why does she take lovers? What is so seductive about her?
  3. Highsmith referred to her protagonists as ‘my psychopath heroes’ – but heroes are usually characters that we admire and root for. Is Vic a psychopath? Is he a hero? How did you feel about him as the novel progressed?
  4. Without wanting to give anything away – at a crucial moment in the book fantasy starts to become reality. Did this shock you? How does Highsmith prepare us – or not – for this moment?
  5. Deep Water is set in a small New England town – Little Wesley, Massachusetts – and the novel builds up quite a detailed portrait of the town and its inhabitants. What role does the setting play in the story? Could the novel have been set in a bigger town, or a city?
  6. We find out a lot about Vic’s various obsessions – from bed bugs and snails to his boutique publishing press. What do these obsessions tell us about Vic, and why does Highsmith devote quite a lot of time to them in the novel?


“Are you going to put arsenic in my food?”

“I don’t think arsenic could kill you.”

It was a charming evening.



Further Reading:

Craig Brown ‘Book of a Lifetime’ feature: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-of-a-lifetime-deep-water-by-patricia-highsmith-6256580.html

Great Savidge Reads blog piece: https://savidgereads.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/deep-water-patricia-highsmith/


“’I do kill people if I don’t like them,’ Vic said even more quietly, leaning towards Ralph and smiling.”