Alphabetical Diaries by Sheila Heti

Sheila Heti's meticulously alphabetised editing of a decade's worth of her diary entries is a cerebral, romantic exploration of the connections and questions that weave throughout her life

Book Review by Paula Lacey | 06 Feb 2024
  • Alphabetical Diaries by Sheila Heti
Book title: Alphabetical Diaries
Author: Sheila Heti

Sheila Heti has always leant towards the confessional; her characters lay themselves bare for her readers to devour. In Alphabetical Diaries, she turns to the autobiographical. The book is the result of the methodical editing of a decade's worth of lines pulled from her personal journal, compiled in a spreadsheet and organised by starting letter, 26(ish) chapters of intimacy and introspection.

While slightly jarring at first, the strangeness of its form evaporates after the first few pages. As her decade unfurls achronologically, you feel as though you are being kept at arm's length, but you begin to piece it together if you blur your eyes and take a step back. Despite the lack of narrative anchor, Heti’s cerebral, romantic sensibility rises to the surface; a page and a half of maybes; a page of perhapses; lists of I wants, I wases, I wents and I wills.

The names of friends and lovers are littered throughout the text, tenderly clustered around their place in the alphabet, such that relationships can be almost quantified by the number of pages their entries take up. Through nameless deictics – hes shes and theys detached from their subjects – she paints a life both touched by human connection yet with a loneliness at its center. Alphabetical Diaries is a feat of creativity, demonstrating Heti’s considered yet candid mastery of language and storytelling.

Fitzcarraldo Editions, 6 Feb