November 25, 2014

"Edith's Diary" - The Murderous Mediocrity

Edith lives two lives: in her diary, she has a happy family, her husband is loving and her son is successful; in reality, she has a dysfunctional family, her son is alcoholic and her husband is cheating. As her diary turns page by page, her utopian life climbs up higher and higher, to almost perfection; as reality moves day by day, her factual life sinks lower and lower, until the boredom and heavyweight routine gradually erodes her tender heart, consumes her vital energy, take away her sanity and eventually crashes her life.

Among all Patricia Highsmith's novels I have read -the most famous ones would be The stranger on the train, Ripliad series, Edith Diary is undoubtedly the most thrilling. The character (Edith) she crafted is extremely convincing, the scenario she conceived is hauntingly thought-provoking.

Highsmith is a master of creating antiheroes or psychopaths. In most of her books I have read, the antagonists are seemingly "normal" but possessed with "abnormal" desires or motives, but in Edith Diary, Edith is not at all a psychopath, instead, she is a normal middle class woman, a devoted housewife and mother, with a liberal mind that is compassionate to poors, cynic toward hypocritical power classes. But with such personality, she is cheated by husband, estranged by her son and her close friends, and at the end, she is pushed to a corner where she is "suffocated" by steadfast yet overwhelming misunderstanding, disbelief and selfishness from people she loves.

It is a depressing yet profoundly disturbing story. It shows the contract between "unique" and "normal", forces readers to ask questions like: why does a person like Edith live such a miserable life? And this novel is not just novel, because what happens to Edith are totally possible in real life. As matter of fact, it reminds me Van Gogh, a passionate mind that was mistaken as insanity.

I have no doubt that in this book Highsmith expressed her extreme detestation toward "mediocrity", or so called "ordinary" majority. Perhaps, she wanted to show us the selfishness, hypocrisy, even the cruelty behind something we know as "normal". And she succeeded.


  1. This story is very powerful.
    I totally understand her story in today's world.
    I feel we live in a society that has trouble trusting kindness. I've written about this matter on my blog before. I can see this pattern happening. Yes, Patricia Highsmith was indeed a visionary.
    Thank you for this fascinating review, Yun. I will add it to my list!

    1. Thanks Julia! It is indeed a powerful story. I read it over 10 years ago first time, but my English wasn't good enough (still I liked it), but this time, a year ago I read it again, thoroughly enjoyed it!
      BTW, "The Clock", did you mean "The Clock Ticks At Christmas"? I just found my Highsmith short stories collection had it and read it right away. Love it! And actually it reminded me "Edith's Diary", though the later is much "heavier".

    2. "The Clock Ticks At Christmas" is about a lady gives gift to two poor kids who steal some stuff from her house. I suppose it is the one you mentioned.

    3. Yes, that's the one!
      I have to read Edith's diary. I'm glad you made the recommendation.
      I heard that Patricia Highsmith was not popular in the United States. She migrated to Europe. Her writing was not welcomed in the United States for some reason.

    4. You are right, she was not popular in this country, despite of her huge success of her first publication - Stranger on the train, which was immediately adapted to film by Hitchcock. It said that it was because her second book (Price of salt) was about lesbian love (Highsmith also was a bi-sexual). And I tend to believe that's the reason.

    5. Maybe. I read somewhere that her characters were not likable enough and that could have been the reason too.
      Considering that the American television does a brainwashing task at an early age through cartoons that present "wars" "good guys" against "bad guys" I believe they pave the way to a certain limited kind of mentality. Read Kurt Vonnegut. I think he points this out in subtle ways in his book Cat's Cradle.

    6. I meant to write wars between good guys and bad guys. Black and white realities.

    7. Julia, I totally agree with you. Labeling humans' characters into black/white seems to be very easy to "get" for many people. I never am a cartoons fan.
      Thanks for recommendation. I will certainly read it. :-)

  2. "Perhaps, she wanted to show us the selfishness, hypocrisy, even the cruelty behind something we know as "normal". And she succeeded."
    I like how you express this sentence.

  3. Because those are indeed a reflection of mediocrity.