Published for the centenary of Highsmith's birth, this volume weaves her diary and notebook entries, exhibiting how her personal affairs seeped into her fiction—and the sheer darkness of her imagination—from her junior year at Barnard in 1941 until her death in 1995.
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 It has been condensed from some 8,000 pages of material contained in fifty-six previously unpublished journals.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.