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The Glass Cell

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  1,112 ratings  ·  107 reviews
Rife with overtones of Dostoyevsky, The Glass Cell combines a quintessential Highsmith mystery with a penetrating critique of the psychological devastation wrought by the prison system.

In 1961, Patricia Highsmith received a fan letter from a prison inmate. A correspondence ensued between author and inmate, and Highsmith became fascinated with the psychological traumas that
Paperback, 249 pages
Published June 17th 2004 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1964)
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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Description: Philip Carter has spent six years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. On his release his beautiful wife is waiting for him. He has never had any reason to doubt her. Nor their friend, Sullivan. Carter has never been suspicious, or violent. But prison can change a man.

Opening: It was 3.35pm, Tuesday afternoon, in the State Penitentiary, and the inmates were returning from the workshops.

When Highsmith started communicating with a prisoner she was drawn into his story and this is t
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I usually read 3 or 4 books at one time until one finally grabs me and forcefully pushes me into my chair, sitting passionately, insistently on my lap, threatening me in a rasping voice, "Take only me and only me, now!"

A history of Rome, Andrew Jackson, and Damon Runyon among others retreated into the corners of my bed stand and I had to finally finish Patricia Highsmith's "The Glass Cell". I gave it 4 stars, not that it was so compelling, but I've been reading her now for nigh on 20 years and
I didn't like this nearly as much as the other books I've read by Highsmith. Apparently based at least partly on truth, from letters she exchanged with a convict in 1961. Quite naturally, then this is also the story of a convict who serves six years in prison for a crime he didn't commit and then gets released and reunited with his wife and son.

The book is mainly about relationships the convict forms, both with other inmates while in prison, and with his family and friends after he gets out. Unf
Jun 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: overdrive, audio
Carter is an innocent man convicted of financial chicanery. While in prison for six years, he suspects that his wife is having an affair with his lawyer. While this book has a twisty plot and the moral ambiguity that I expect from Highsmith, I was bored by this book. Too much time was spent in the prison setting with its predictable violence and general unpleasantness. I liked the book a little more after Carter was released, but that still didn't redeem the book for me. This was just adequate H ...more
I begin this post with a warning to the many devoted Goldfinch fans who evidently put the latest Tartt magnum opus on a par with the Bible. You won’t like this, not one little bit. You see, I put down The Goldfinch smack bang in the middle of it and picked up The Glass Cell, which I didn’t stop reading until I finished it. ‘OMG, How COULD you? The greatest book in the whole history of books ever and you did THAT????’ I can hear them all, as I write. Well, I did, so there.

I needed to take somethi
Merl Fluin
Feb 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: suspense
A middling Highsmith novel, which is to say that it's still better than almost anything by any other author in the genre. It doesn't reach the vertiginous highs of, say, the Ripley books – but then, what does?

One reason why this one packs less of a punch than some other Highsmiths is that it is set entirely in the US, and consequently lacks the unsettled, dislocated atmosphere of the European novels. The protagonist's life is certainly upended, but in this case the feeling of alienation is more
Jan 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: american, 2019, crime, fiction
"Life is funny. It is necessary both to see oneself in perspective and not to see oneself in perspective, yet either one can lead to madness. The two things must be done at the same time."
- Patricia Highsmith, The Glass Cell


An innocent man is sent to prison for six years and once let out, addicted to Morphine, he attempts to reconnect with his son, his wife, and her lover. Highsmith is the master of motivations and psychological thrillers. She knows what makes people tick and what it takes to br
Dec 09, 2018 rated it really liked it

I have now read six novels by Patricia Highsmith. She was truly a unique and excellent writer. Unique because of her unabashed look at evil and psychological misfits; excellent because her books are shorn of frills while she puts her readers smack inside the heads of her protagonists, whether male or female.

Earlier this year I read Rachel Kushner's prison story The Mars Room. The Glass Cell is also a prison story but in this one a man goes to a State Penitentiary for a financial crime he did no
Andy Weston
Oct 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime, noir
Highsmith's often disturbing story concerns Philip Carter, a 30 year old engineer, who, due to a combination of bad luck and foolishness, finds himself serving a lengthy prison sentence in the American south in the 1950s. The first half of the novel, with Carter incarcerated, is especially dark, with a strong undercurrent of the author's dissatisfaction with the state of the US prison system.
Though Carter returns to his wife and child after release, he is far from the naive and amicable man he
M.J. Johnson
Feb 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
As a Highsmith fan I wasn't disappointed by this book about a man who is changed both physically and mentally after spending six years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. It is very dark, psychologically disturbing and morally ambiguous. I daresay for some readers there may not be enough action in the book, but I loved the chilling way the story slowly unfolded. It's a book that stays with you and continues to resonate long after you've put it down. ...more
Lou Robinson
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent dose of Patricia Highsmith, with plenty of suspense and violence. A book of two halves with the first based around Philip Carter's time in prison for a crime he didn't commit. The second his return to life outside back in New York. Great stuff again from Highsmith, her writing certainly has longevity, this is as relevant now as it was in the 1960s when she wrote it. ...more
Jane Eyre Rochester
Mar 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I listened to the audio version and was put off by the readers style of reading. Maybe i would have liked this book better, had i read it myself. It's a classical Patricia Highsmth novel. Phil Carter is an innocent man put to jail unjustly. Life in prison is not easy,Carter changes in and out as time goes by. He is longing to go back to his family but he remains in jail for 6 years. When he is released he is a totally new man. Violence has now rooted within his soul,a sheep that has become a wol ...more
Bruce Beckham
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
In her treatise ‘Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction’ Patricia Highsmith explains how simple ideas come to be the ‘germs’ of her novels.

Having now read several of her non-Ripley works, I am really beginning to appreciate her ability in this regard.

‘The Glass Cell’ is about a guy who is incarcerated – probably unluckily – for his association with fraudsters. He becomes concerned that the diligence of his lawyer in filing continual appeals is because of the access it provides to his attractive w
Jan 05, 2015 rated it liked it
I liked this book, although I think that, compared to contemporary standards for suspense novels, it is probably a little tame. It's like comparing a Hitchcock movie to the Bourne Ultimatum. What transpires here happens slowly, and it's subtle enough that it may bore the pants off more impatient readers. However, if you are not one of those, you will probably enjoy that Highsmith is a talented writer, if not a flashy one (She reminds me of another of her similarly overlooked contemporaries, Paul ...more
Lee Foust
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Needing to take a break halfway through the enormously long Tale of Genji I grabbed what I thought would be lighter reading from the noir shelf and came up with this. Based on the lukewarm responses here on Goodreads I didn't expect much and was therefore super pleased and surprised when I discovered how intense and really good The Glass Cell is. At its best it enters into Hubert Selby territory, drawing us in to feel both empathy and disgust for characters with whom we both identify and yet wou ...more
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first Highsmith. I look forward to reading many more.
Rob Christopher
May 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Definitely kept my interest, but curiously unmemorable. Carter's personality shift and behavior isn't as disquieting as it should be. ...more
Max Tomlinson
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Move over Ripley.

If you read suspense and have not read Patricia Highsmith yet, first of all, shame on you and second, you have some weird and wonderful (and terrifying) books ahead. No one wrote like Highsmith did, and at the time she did. Her novels deliver in the classic thriller/mystery/suspense department for those of you simply looking for an edgy ride over a psychological cliff but they’re also weighty and literate and truly unique. Her characters are odd, not in the Elmore Leonard sense,
May 25, 2016 rated it liked it
I bought a number of the latest Virago reprints of Highsmith recently. Why? She's not my usual sort of writer, largely because read at length, the flatness of her prose gets monotonous and frustrating. However, the themes of her work, and the fact that she has nothing but contempt for the notion of a providential universe, mean that there is no 'safety net' for her characters. 'The Glass Cell' is an oddly haunting book, one I liked far more than 'The Two Faces of January' or 'Those Who Walk Away ...more
Nov 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The first part was so heavy that I needed to get away from the book from time to time, even though the writing is superb. The second part, however, I found so fascinating that I literally couldn't put the book down. One of the best Highsmith novels I've read. ...more
Carla Remy
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
The first half of this 1964 novel is about life in prison, anxious and violent but surprisingly readable. The second half is about life after prison, developing into a classic Highsmithian tale of murder, guilt and lack of guilt.
Roshnara Mohamed
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
I liked this book much better than I did the more commercially successful Highsmith novels (Strangers on a Train and Ripley). Here Highsmith really delves into the psyche of an innocent man incarcerated in a high security prison. The effect of the horrors inflicted on him in prison along with the bleakness of his chances of getting out and his doubts about his wife's fidelity out in the world start playing havoc in his mind, and before long, the once happy go lucky man is turned into a suspiciou ...more
Vel Veeter
Apr 09, 2020 rated it liked it
This is another Patricia Highsmith novel, this one from 1961. Reading about it, it seems like she’s writing a kind of psychological novel about prison life in the United States. We meet Philip Carter, a young engineer in prison for embezzlement and fraud (charges we understand are false — as he was a fall guy for a conman who died recently). He’s been in prison for a few weeks and in an attempt to appease his cell mate he delivers some contraband cigarettes when he’s caught by the guards (in a s ...more
Carol Masciola
Mar 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
It's the 100th anniversary of Highsmith's birth this year, so a good time to read (or re-read) her.

Philip Carter is wrongly convicted of a crime and spends six years in prison. (If you can get past the first chapter, which describes some very harsh goings-on, the rest isn't bad) The first roughly half is about his life in prison, and the second half is about post-release, and we see how prison has altered him as he reacts to his wife's infidelity with a family friend, the distance that has grow
James Perkins
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it
After six years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, Philip Carter returns to the real world, but he's not the same. Set in the early 1960s, novelist Patricia Highsmith provides us with a psychological study of how prison can change a person. Suspicion, addiction, dishonesty, sudden violence - they all play a part in this novel. Even the most trite dialogue, gesture, or expression can carry a hidden menace. The plot is simple, but the meaning is not. Nevertheless, I did not think it as engagi ...more
Gina Rheault
May 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fabulously paced, skillful tracing of the traumas of imprisonment for a prisoner but also for the family. The warm, jubilant homecoming segues into excellent descriptions of the unfolding effects of re-entry into society, ie, post-traumatic stress. This happens in the life of a well-to-do person who lands back in the arms of a loving wife and their young son, back into a family that has done well, a family that has no financial problems, who are well-positioned enough to ease the hero's re-entry ...more
This one is oddly structured, and it took me a while to get used to, mainly because wasn’t a fan of the writing style, which did a lot of telling instead of showing. It felt more like an information dump than a novel and jumped around a lot to the point that it was as if I was reading a rough outline of a story to be improved later.

I found the prison half messy and too long for its relevance and contribution to the rest of the story but after Carter’s release it was much more gripping and had a
Richard Thompson
Dec 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not quite as good as Ripley or Strangers on a Train, but this book is still a fine thriller with great psychological insight. How would six years in prison after an unjust conviction change me? How would they affect my marriage? I'd like to think that I'd do better than Philip Carter, but maybe not and certainly no person could go through that sort of experience without a major negative impact on their life.

Carter is crippled by torture by prison guards, and he is left in lifelong chronic pain.
Apr 20, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ve never understood why some people describe Highsmith’s prose as monotonous and bland - I’ve always found it richly detail-focused and poetic in its insights. This book was no different. The plot was minimal, but that’s not the point. This is a character portrait of an ordinary man thrown into a violent, lawless world where consequences don’t ever align with justice. Even once he’s ‘out’, the so-called lawful world is equally insidious and imprisoning - the glass cell of the title. The man wh ...more
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Although the reasons for the main character’s being in prison are overly detailed and take up too many pages, if you get past this part the story really moves along. As usual in a Highsmith book, we are set up to feel sympathy towards this man because of his harsh treatment. He thinks in a calm and logical way when he causes pain upon others. We completely are made to understand the reasons for his actions and are made to wonder if there will be repercussions for him. We wonder what he really de ...more
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Patricia Highsmith was an American novelist who is known mainly for her psychological crime thrillers which have led to more than two dozen film adaptations over the years.

She lived with her grandmother, mother and later step-father (her mother divorced her natural father six months before 'Patsy' was born and married Stanley Highsmith) in Fort Worth before moving with her parents to New York in

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