Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) is renowned for her psychological thrillers, notably her first novel, Strangers on a Train (1950), filmed by Alfred Hitchcock; The Price of Salt (1952), which became the 2015 film Carol, starring Cate Blanchett, and the best-selling Ripley quintet, featuring the "suave, agreeable and utterly amoral" Tom Ripley. Highsmith's 22 novels are ones in which good and evil are turned on their head.
After Highsmith's death, 56 thick spiral notebooks were found in the linen cupboard of her Swiss home, where she had become a misanthropic recluse. Anna von Planta, Patricia Highsmith's longtime editor, has condensed the 8,000 pages of Highsmith's diaries and notebooks, now in the Swiss Literary Archives, into a still whopping 1000 pages. Each chronological selection is prefaced by a concise and informative summary.
There have been three major biographies of Highsmith to date. Two, by Andrew Wilson and Joan Schenkar, had access to the diaries and the third, by Richard Bradfield, was only published in 2021. Many readers, therefore, will be familiar with Highsmith's decidedly complicated personality, turbulent alcoholic life and writing career.
Nearly half of von Planta's book is devoted to Highsmith's early life in New York from 1941-1950. Von Planta comments, "what amazed and touched me... was to discover the raw and unrestrained voice of the young Pat in her early notebooks...which tell of frequent heartbreak, difficult choices, hard-won professional triumphs and a furiously fast-paced social life. It was to witness the painful becoming of Patricia Highsmith."
Highsmith had an overwhelming belief in her writing. On Valentine's Day in 1942, Highsmith, then a college student, wrote: "I shall be something. I shall do something". On May 5, 1950, she notes, "writing is a substitute for the life I currently live, am unable to live".
Highsmith never married, commenting, "Living with someone you love is so disillusioning". By 1950, she had had numerous short-term relationships with women, often older and married.
Her diary entries reflect on love and murder, with Highsmith once contemplating murdering one of her lovers, stating "murder is a kind of making love, a kind of possessing".
Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks, which see "the famously secretive Highsmith revealing the roots of her psychological angst and acuity", is a must for Highsmith completists, but, for others, it will be a book for dipping into, while observing the increasing darkness of a major writer's mind.
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