I first encountered Joe Orton in the pages of Kenneth Williams' autobiography, "Just Williams". It was while rummaging around the shelves of a second-hand bookshop recently that I discovered "The Orton Diaries", and, my curiosity about the man rising, I bought it.
I sat and read it from cover to cover in 2 or 3 sittings (university reading, alas, having to take precedence!). Although I knew (courtesy of K.W.) that Orton had written a frank and open diary, I hadn't realised just how frank it would be. His accounts of somewhat sordid searches for sex, coupled with his description of lovers and sexual acts, left me open-mouthed and somewhat repulsed - an effect that I'm sure has Joe grinning, wherever he is today. His views on life and those around him show a wry humour, and also reveal an undercurrent of bitter rage at the world.
The diary is written from after Joe's career as a playwright hit success; it would be interesting to read about life was like for Joe and his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, before Joe hit the big time.
From the diary, it's very easy to see why Halliwell became so angry with Joe and how frustrating life with him must have been. Orton frequently comes across as selfish, arrogant, egotistical and opinionated, and his accounts of his sexual conquests (which, by all accounts, Halliwell was actually able to read, due to Joe's leaving the diary where he could find it) must have saddened and infuriated Halliwell in equal measure. The calm way in which Joe's murder and Halliwell's suicide is recounted at the end really makes you stop and think.
After the tragedy of the ending, there is the brilliant addition of the Edna Welthorpe correspondence - letters that Joe wrote to various people under the guise of various assumed names. They really are brilliantly funny and show the lighter, quirkier side of Joe's character.
All in all, this is a vibrant book, filled with quirks and tragedy throughout, and I thoroughly recommend it to anybody with an interest in people, the world of theatre and playwriting.