From her carefree 20s and countless affairs, to literary success and later-life bigotry and rancour, the author’s extraordinary diaries reveal a woman determined to chart her own course
In the summer of 1956, Patricia Highsmith was living in upstate New York with Doris Sanders, an advertising copywriter with whom she professed to be in love. The novelist was, at 35, worried about a mid-career slump, although this was more routine anxiety than reality. For the previous seven years, Highsmith had enjoyed a stretch of extraordinary creativity, resulting in the novels that would make her reputation – Strangers on a Train, The Price of Salt (published in 1952 under a pseudonym and later republished, under her own name, as Carol), and The Talented Mr Ripley. And, after years of turbulence in her private life, she seemed, finally, to have achieved a measure of tranquillity. She and Doris bought a car. Highsmith started a vegetable garden. Improbably, she joined a church choir.
A few months after moving upstate, however, she noted ominously in her diary: “The danger of living with somebody, for me, is the danger of living without one’s normal diet of passion. Things are so readily equalized, soothed, forgotten with a laugh, with perspective.”