Hurtling back to the real world (‘real world’ here meaning ‘semi-detached house with no chandeliers and no pool in an average city’) on a fast-moving train from sunny Wales, I set up my temporary office space on a table (phone, laptop, diary, main notepad, secondary notepad) whilst warding off hopeful fellow passengers with a hostile glare. “Go on”, I warned through my expressionless glower, “Ask me to move. I dare you.” I had ignored all emails, texts and pigeon mail for the weekend and now I had to deal with the backlog to organise the next two weeks of my life.
Looking at the Wales weekend entry, a whale with dragon wings because Wales, I turned the page then gasped in horror as the realisation that my diary ends in the first week of August hit me like a cold, wet fish. “There must be some mistake”, I rationalised as I flipped back and forth through the diary. Events that had been marked in my diary but long-forgotten about flickered past in pencil, pen and highlighter.
Remembering these moments, I thought about how diaries are personal yet biased accounts of individual lives. While lost in ruminating, I saw it. In red capital letters, marked in the space for 15th July: “Buy a new diary, Reni. Not sure what the point of reminding you is, you’ll forget anyway”.
Et tu, Past Me?
Mind reeling from the dismay, I pondered about other diaries, those of fiction and non-fiction, as the countryside whizzed past. The list below is of course chronological.
So Much To Tell You by John Marsden, 1987
A heart-warming story presented as a diary written by a 14-year-old girl, Marina. She illustrates her reasons for beginning the diary as a traumatic accident leads her to becoming mute. Marsden poignantly reveals these details of Marina’s, where she gradually opens up about her life, progressing from noting down trivial titbits to fully divulging her emotions and opinions. Marina grows in her abilities to communicate non-verbally and to socialise with her peers. Looking back on this book now, I was shocked to find this book was based on a true story.
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding, 1996
Have to admit that I read this book after watching the film, as is often the case for me, where I need to assess how well the book-to-film translation has been achieved. Originally written as an anonymous newspaper column for The Independent, where its success led to two novels (with a third coming out in Autumn 2013) and two films. Showing a year in the life of 32-year-old Bridget Jones in diary form, the reader learns about Bridget’s daily struggles in work and in her personal life. Each diary entry is marked with the latest thing that Bridget has decided to document, from her weight to how many cigarettes she shouldn’t have smoked each day. It was an easy read, which here is not an insult. Although it can be easily assumed that only a 32-year-old woman could possibly enjoy this book, I felt that the character’s insights are amusingly accessible to everyone.
Tom Riddle’s diary in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling, 1998
The first of the fictional diaries in this list, Tom Riddle’s diary makes an appearance in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. This was my first taste of a diary really being a sinister body that could be used against people. Before blogging, where else could you find out so much private information about someone? I particularly enjoyed the irony that Voldemort entrusted a part of his soul into a diary he bought from a regular ol’ Muggle shop; from the people he hated the most.
The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler, 1998
The Basic Eight’s plot revolves around high school student Flannery Culp and her closest friends, self-styled as ‘The Basic Eight’. Narrated from Culp’s point of view, readers are shown the hardships of teenage life over a period barely longer than a month. This short space of time is enough for Flannery’s entire life to be torn apart; by boyfriends and unrequited love; by betrayals and overly amorous teachers; by inept psychologists and by murder. While Handler offers a grating and sometimes flippant voice to Flannery, this book is crafted in a scrupulous manner, such that has been seen in his more well-known series as Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Diary by Chuck Palahniuk, 2003
Dark, gritty and persistent, Diary is a standard Palahniuk offering. His literary power is especially eminent in this, where he creates a character in Misty Tracy Wilmot who is so eventually familiar from her diary entries that the reader tries to hold her back from her inevitable ending.
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, 2003
Originally marketed as a memoir but later found out to be semi-fictional, A Million Little Pieces documents the story of James as he battle through his addictions in a rehabilitation centre. With an occasionally over-descriptive tendency and a highly stylistic form of writing, A Million Little Pieces reads better as a strong basis for a film script than as a novel in its own right.
The Diary of a Madman by Nikolai Gogol (translated by Ronald Wilks), 2006
Oh my. This short story really pulls you over an emotional rollercoaster at lightning speed. Gogol details the descent into insanity of low-ranking civil servant Poprishchin, who falls in love with the beautiful daughter of a senior official. It would seem that love does crazy things to the brain as Poprishchin records his madness, from discovering written love letters sent between two dogs to believing himself to be heir to the throne of Spain. Distinctive layers of conflict and depravity, Gogol’s writing is excruciatingly potent.
A Journal of Impossible Things in Series 3 of Doctor Who (Human Nature, Family of Blood) by Paul Cornell, 2007
After becoming fully human to hide from the Family of Blood, John Smith began to vividly dream of his adventures as the Doctor. These strange dreams at first irked and frustrated Smith but then he began to enjoy these dreams as an escape from his otherwise normal life. Writing and sketching these dreams in a journal, it was heart-breaking to see him vibrantly speak to others of this oddly familiar travelling man.
The American Diary of A Japanese Girl: An Annotated Edition by Yone Noguchi, 2007
The first novel published in America from a Japanese writer, The American Diary of A Japanese Girl was ground-breaking in 1902 and its words still ring true of today’s relationship between Japan and America. Tokyo girl Miss Morning Glory describes her adventures in a delightful first-person narrative of disguises, gender-switching and class systems. Believed to be an authentic journal, it was later revealed that the autobiographical fiction was artfully written by a man. Through Noguchi, Miss Morning Glory playfully dispenses her unique insight on Japanese culture and American lifestyles.
La Boutique Obscure: 124 Dreams by Georges Perec (translated by Daniel Levin Becker), 2013
A literary amalgamation of Perec’s dreams documented between 1968 until 1972, La Boutique Obscure is an odd and bizarre work. Within it, Perec records his dreams as much as he can and poses answers and questions to each dream. With no definitive pattern to his dreams and an idiosyncratic drive to solve them, there are dissociative traits running throughout Perec’s book. Traumatic and cruel at times, La Boutique Obscure is a must-read for those into the psychoanalysis of dreams.