The whole book is excellent. Highsmith is pointed and dry about herself and everything else. But the early chapters are special. They comprise one of the most observant and ecstatic accounts I’ve read—and it’s a crowded field!—about being young and alive in New York City ... In these diaries she can appear to have popped, fully formed, from a Charles Addams cartoon. Misanthropes will find a lot to please them ... condensed from some 8,000 pages of material. It is still, at nearly 1,000 pages, a whacking book. But it’s not logy. It’s been sharply edited by Anna von Planta, Highsmith’s longtime editor. The introductory material for each section is useful and concise. There’s no desire to hit 'skip intro.'
'I am becoming a little odd, personally,' she wrote in 1954, a fact that grew more pronounced as the years went by. It’s a startling effect of reading the diaries that one begins to understand not only why this occurred, but the impact it had on Highsmith’s fiction ... a portrait of Highsmith from the jolly solipsism of her 20s in New York—when, to read her diaries, you’d have had no idea the second world war was ongoing—to her sombre 50s and 60s, when she became increasingly bitter about the world and her life. In between are years of turmoil and heartbreak consistent with a truism about diaries: that you never write down the happy stuff. And yet alongside Highsmith’s rage and despair there is a great deal of joy, courage and unvanquishable still‑in-the-game spirit ... One of the delights of the early diary entries is the unlikely spectacle of Highsmith as steward of a lot of glancing—Bridget Jones-type material ... By the early 1950s, Highsmith’s flippancy is starting to erode, as the permissiveness of the war years gives way to the more socially conservative America of the day.
... opens a window onto this extraordinary writer’s inner life and working methods. It has been condensed from some 8,000 pages of material contained in fifty-six previously unpublished journals. The book is still, at nearly 1,000 pages, heavy as a house brick and, it must be said, relentlessly self-absorbed in tone...But there is enough here to keep us entertained as well as appalled ... Judiciously edited ... Published to coincide with the 100th centenary of Highsmith’s birth in 1921, Diaries and Notebooks is a welcome addition to the work of a most eccentric genius.
Half the volume is devoted to the years 1941-1950, in which Highsmith found her feet and voice — if not herself — in the Big Apple. The city inspires some of the young Texan’s finest writing ... Readers of Highsmith’s novels will not learn much more about them here ... Anna von Planta edited Highsmith for the last 11 years of her life. She has done a superb job, creating a clear storyline through the mental and physical chaos of an often 'disgustingly befuddled' (the words are Highsmith’s) writer’s life. These diaries, like those of Williams, will send you reaching for the bottle yourself if read cover to cover. Keep them beside the bed, dip into them each night, and count your blessings you haven’t (yet) ended up a tax exile in an architect-designed fortress in Switzerland with just two narrow windows facing the road, alone with your memories, subsisting on smokes, booze and peanut butter ... And read them you must. Von Planta has thankfully omitted the most offensive of Highsmith’s hateful outbursts. The many bed scenes are unlikely to cause even a maiden aunt to clutch her pearls. Furthermore, the magnificent result is, indeed, unpredictable. It’s impossible to guess what Highsmith will come out with next. There is a startling phrase on every page.
The publication of a document like Highsmith’s Diaries and Notebooks would be an event in the case of any major writer. It provokes a special interest in Highsmith’s case, because it is in the nature of diaries and cahiers to engage in precisely the psychological and philosophical reflection, the confession and self-scrutiny, that she systematically excludes from the pages of her fiction and denies her characters. The result of such a revelation, however, is less to clear up than to deepen the mystery of this writer of 'mystery novels' ... An intensely private woman, who ultimately chose to expatriate herself to France and then Switzerland and live alone with her cats, Highsmith kept her psychological gems and philosophical gallstones to herself. And she stripped them from her work, too, leaving behind a shelf of psychological thrillers that withhold from harrowing situations the balm of any psychological reflection. None of her books is truly a 'mystery novel' in the ordinary sense, since the reader is never in doubt as to who did, or didn’t, do what to whom. Her great contribution to the mystery genre turns out to be nothing else than her diaries and journals. Even these pages conceal with one hand what they display with another: 'It is curious that in the most interesting periods of one’s life, one never writes one’s diary.'
The mixing of notebooks with selections from the diaries works well, providing parallel narratives, each casting light on the other, and Von Planta offers useful, short biographical introductions to the various sections. The early diaries were written in several languages so that they had to be transcribed and then translated back into English. The translators have done an excellent job, matching the voice of the diaries with that of the notebooks.
... the confessions, insights, despair, and pique in Highsmith’s journals match, if not surpass, those in the diaries of Susan Sontag—who, twelve years Highsmith’s junior, was her near equal in terms of prodigious output and shambolic lesbian love life ... The alacrity on display in this meaty, opening segment of the Diaries and Notebooks is certainly surprising. Highsmith’s fondness for exclamation marks rivals a zoomer’s ... The resurrection of...little-known, charmingly monikered queer NYC boîtes provides its own ancillary pleasures; Highsmith’s detailing of her evenings out serves as a kind of stealth history of midcentury homo nightlife ... Although romantically and sexually active well into her senescence, she writes encomiums for her cats—exultant poems once reserved for girlfriends. As she ages, she grows more bilious, her political views more unhinged ... a furiously disciplined writer.
Huge, sumptuous ... In addition to being brilliant, Highsmith could also be rough, and she got rougher as she got older ... What’s produced here instead is something utterly beguiling, a double-track confession of Augstinian proportions. Highsmith kept both a conventional diary and also a series of notebooks that acted more like a jagged, introspective commonplace book ... The contrast is cumulatively dizzying, building the point where the readers feels like a dumbfounded witness to a heated, life-long dialogue between Highsmith’s id and her ego ... The interplay, combined with informative, tastefully minimal footnotes throughout, create a better, wiser, less forgiving, and entirely more involving life of Patricia Highsmith than any formal biography that’s ever been written or ever likely to be written.
The mere 15 percent represented in the volume is astonishing, not only because of its value as literary history but also as an account of a woman exploring the complexities of her queerness in Manhattan’s midcentury bohemia ... Much as her editor lets the evidence about drinking speak for itself but never uses the word alcoholism, von Planta has little to say about trans identity ... Anna von Planta is very careful to say that this edited collection should not be read as an autobiography—but it makes this Highsmith fan eager to see a talented biographer dig into this rich and compelling archive.
Just like Highsmith’s writing, which always flirted with the line between literature and entertainment, the self that emerges from her diaries is slippery ... Highsmith’s editor Anna von Planta, in her introduction to the published notebooks, cautions readers that the real Highsmith is only to be found in her diaries ... But the truths of Highsmith’s diaries have been, like those of Sydney’s journal, transfigured by the fictions that preceded them. Her public self is at the mercy of the currents of popular culture.
... painstakingly annotated for context ... With a presentient awareness of her audience, Highsmith's candid entries reflect a determined writer and an uneasy heart as they outline her work, reading, and social life ... An exceptional effort to make primary source material on one of America's best known mystery authors more accessible. Sure to be a resource for future scholars, these annotated diaries will also appeal to fans of Eileen Myles's Chelsea Girls and Diane di Prima's Recollections of my Life as a Woman, offering a frank and detailed account of a woman and writer coming of age.
Organized chronologically, the volume includes informative introductions for each section; a helpful foreword by von Planta; an afterword by Highsmith’s biographer, Joan Shenkar, focusing on the influential women who featured in Highsmith’s sensual education; a biographical timeline; a bibliography and filmography; and a sampling of passages that Highsmith wrote in Spanish, German, French, and Italian ... Although von Planta cautions that the volume is not an autobiography, it is surely the closest that readers will come to one ... An admirably edited volume for scholars and voracious fans.