Friday, August 7, 2015

Edith's Diary, by Patricia Highsmith

Staff review by Chris Hubbard

First published in 1977 this welcome reissue proves there was much more to Patricia Highsmith than her Ripley crime novels.

Edith’s Diary begins in the 1950s and tells the story of Edith Howland, her husband Brett and their young son Cliffie who have moved from New York City for a new life in a suburb of Pennsylvania . At first everything seems relatively normal until Cliffie starts to exhibit more than just the usual childhood habit of sullen bad behaviour.

Early on it is revealed that Edith has been given a diary which she keeps on a semi-regular basis. It soon becomes apparent that the diary is not an accurate account of her family life and that she has tried to create an ideal "picture perfect" family portrait. Things could not be further from the truth. Cliffie’s strange behaviour leads him to jumping off a bridge and into a freezing river for no apparent reason. Her husband has begun an affair with a co-worker and the arrival of elderly bed-ridden Uncle George adds further fuel to the domestic nightmare.  As Edith’s life becomes more unbearable her diary reveals the complete opposite. Cliffie is depicted as happily married, with children and a globe-trotting job to boot. The grim reality is that as an adult he is unemployed most of the time, drinks to excess and starts to display cruel and vindictive behaviour toward Uncle George.

Edith's Diary is a remarkable novel full of darkly brilliant observations of family life gone sour. It’s a book where each time you think you know where it’s heading Highsmith manages to effortlessly redirect your expectations and emotions.  Edith’s life is equal parts ordinariness and tragedy, which Highsmith creates in such a precise and sympathetic way.  Fans of novels such as Revolutionary Road and Mrs Bridge are sure to find Edith’s Diary a gripping and disturbing read.

Edith's Diary, by Patricia Highsmith. Published by Virago. ISBN: 9780349004556  RRP: $19.99

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