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Book Reviews257 JOHN LAHR, ed. TAe Orton Diaries. London: Methuen, 1986. 304 p. Prior to reading this book I had never fully realized why I found it so difficult to engage with Joe Orton's plays. Now I think I understand. Orton's popularity has increased again during recent years, and his plays have frequently been seen, at least on the London stage, to sizeable audiences and a favorable critical reception. Retrospectively Orton is often seen as the herald of the New Left, the theatrical darling of Gay Rights, and the apostle ofdaring. His exploits with Kenneth Halliwell in defacing library books have become legendary. The nature of his end, beaten to death by his lover who then killed himself, has been viewed as the epitome ofthe romantic grotesque. The disrespect for everything, shown in the plays, provided an effective antidote to the educated middle-class revolt of 1960s figures like John Osborne. I have never been able to find the plays funny, however, and this book makes me realize why. It was not apparent to me just how deeply rooted the plays were in Orton's psychopathology, and how close the plays' tone would be to that adopted in the dramatist's diaries themselves. The idea for the diaries came from Orton's agent, and what we have is a period from December 1966 to August 1967, only a week before his death. Almost everything is treated with the same cold, passionless distance evident in the plays. Orton catalogues the oddities of his neighbors, and comments on his professional associates, the men he picks up in public lavatories, and Halliwell himselfinjust the same way. There is no affect, or personal feeling, at all in what he writes. It is the writing of a man completely divorced from his feelings and without any meaningful personal relationships. Much of the book is taken up with a clipped angry list of casual sexual encounters, none ofwhich appears to have any meaning for him. The strange things people say are written down without analysis, without reflection, and with no explanation. They stand glaring at us; we might be able to find them funny were it not for the appalling emptiness of the observer. I cannot find in these diaries either any love or any support by Orton for Halliwell's depression. It appears to be a subject he was not willing to think about. The nearest we get is the following: Monday 1 May Kenneth H. had a long talk about our relationship. He threatens, or keeps saying, he will commit suicide. He says, "You'll learn then, won't you?" and "What will you be without me?" We talked and talked until I was exhausted. Going round in circles. Later I went out and bought some haddock for dinner tonight. (147) From the evidence of the Diaries it appears to be the case that Orton did not have any really close relationships with anyone, even with the man he was living with, and it seems likely that he had never had any close relationships with anyone. There is something brutal and indeed brutish in his descriptions ofhis many sexual encounters. As the months progress Orton begins increasingly to associate sex with anger. What sex appears to signify is that it demonstrates to him that he can, despite his knowledge at some level that he is incapable of intimacy, actually manage to get inside someone else even if only by means of a sexual encounter. These encounters seem rarely to have any emotional dimension. It is tempting to speculate that his promiscuity gave him some sense of engagement with other men, when his 258Rocky Mountain Review daily relationships told him otherwise. The sex, therefore, would appear to be the only significant verification for him of his own existence. The angel that begins to be expressed, therefore, might be a safer way ofconveying some partial understanding than the despair which could otherwise surface. The Diaries end with Halliwell's note that the police found after the deaths If you read his diary all will be explained. K.H. P.S. Especially the latter part. (266) "All" is very limited. One can understand that the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 257-258
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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