Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Strangers on a Train: Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith is known for her dark, suspense-filled novels and Strangers on a Train was my introduction to her writing. (It was also her debut novel.) I had been wanting to read it for years and Peggy at Peggy's Porch very kindly sent me her copy. The basic story is that two men meet on a train, and one of them suggests a murder pact. If they each murder a person that the other wants to get rid of, then they can get away with the perfect crime.


Charles Anthony Bruno is the one who proposes the pact; he is a rich young man, dependent on his father for funds, and indulged by his mother. The other young man is Guy Haines; he is embarrassed by the encounter, determined not to take Bruno seriously. Guy is an architect, just starting out, with a wife he wants to divorce and a girlfriend he wants to marry. Most of the story is told from Guy's point of view, although we get to know Bruno's thoughts very well also.

My assessment:

A very good novel, but a disturbing read. I read the first 100 pages enjoying Highsmith's wonderful way with telling a story. I liked the buildup of tension, the introduction of the characters, and the laying out of the story. But beyond that point I had to slow down and only read a bit of it a day. It was too intense and very unpleasant. The ending was a complete surprise to me and I did not find it convincing.

For readers who have not already experienced this novel, I would only recommend it to those who enjoy highly suspenseful noir novels. This novel proves to be more of a character study than the exploration of a crime, and that is usually an approach I like. This time it did not prove to be enjoyable.

The film:

There is well-known film adaptation of this novel, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Farley Granger as Guy and Robert Walker as Bruno both handle their roles very well. Robert Walker's acting is especially chilling. I had seen the movie before reading the book, but enough years had passed that I wasn't sure how much was changed in the film. The basic story and the ending of the film are quite different. I liked the film a lot, but it does not have the emotional impact or the depth of the book. In the book it is hard to have sympathy with anyone, in the film the characters are more likable.

Other thoughts on the novel:


I still plan to read at least one other novel by Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley, the first in a series. I will probably try some of her other stand alone novels. Suggestions are welcome.


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Publisher:   W. W. Norton & Company, 2001 (orig. publ. 1950)
Length:       280 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      USA
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      A gift.

20 comments:

  1. I still haven't rushed back to anything else by her since I read this. Glad to see I wasn't the only one who wasn't mesmerized by it.

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    1. I am glad I read the book,Col, but it wasn't a pleasant experience. I was surprised to read more negative reviews than positive reviews.

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  2. It is, indeed, a dark story that makes one uneasy, Tracy. I can see how you reacted the way you did. It is interesting, isn't it, how Highsmith made it as much a psychological study as anything else.

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    1. Generally I like a psychological study, Margot, but I like something positive in the story I guess. I wonder what I will think of the Ripley book, I have heard it is even more disturbing to read.

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  3. I have read RIPLEY, many years ago, but remember very little of it now except thinking it may be overrated.

    By the way, I finished THEIR FINEST and after struggling with it in the first half, finally got into the story and finished liking it quite a lot.

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    1. I am very glad to hear that the story of THEIR FINEST picked up and you enjoyed it in the end, Rick. I liked the subplots more than the main plot featuring Catrin.

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    2. By the end, I was wishing I got more about Edith, Ambose and Catrin. They seemed to gloss over the success of the film, as well.

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    3. Edith was my favorite, or maybe Ambrose. Can't decide.

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  4. Seen it mentioned a lot, and recall the plot's premise, but never had enuf curiosity to read the book or see the film. I'm grateful for the warning, Tracy, as it sounds like something that just might bum me out.

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    1. I felt worn out when I was reading the book, Mathew, too much tension for me. But still, I don't regret reading it.

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  5. My suggestion is not to read any more by her. Just joking really, but I do not get on with most of them. This was one of the best, but I read many more, disliking them more and more, before finally seeing sense and calling it a day! But that's a very personal verdict.

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    1. I do appreciate your opinion, Moira, I think it is possible that her writing is too negative for me. But I do want to try a Ripley book.

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  6. I've never read any Highsmith. Over the years I've read about her books and I've never been intrigued enough I guess. Haven't seen the films though I think I may have once upon a time watched STRANGERS ON A TRAIN - but many MANY years ago. Thanks for your review, Tracy. I see no reason to change my mind about reading HIghsmith though I must say that that book cover design is wonderful.

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    1. I do like that cover also, Yvette. It fits the book perfectly. I am always curious about what I am missing if I don't try an author, but I have plenty of untried authors left to try.

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  7. It was intense, Tracy! Sorry you didn’t like it.

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    1. Well, I really liked the first third, Peggy, and I have no regrets about reading it. And VERY grateful that you sent me a copy. In the end it got uncomfortable to read.

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  8. I loved the book. It's psychologically twisted and dark. My kind of book. It's not for everybody I realize but I went on to read several more Highsmith titles. I don't think she beat Strangers on a Train for me but The Talented Mr. Ripley came close. Glad you read it and know that she's probably not for you. --Keishon

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    1. Definitely dark and twisted, Keishon, that is good description. I do want to read Talented Mr. Ripley also, if only to have experienced it.

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  9. Thanks for this review. Someone just suggested this author to me recently and though I've watched "The Talented Mr. Ripley," I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't realize it was a book first until she mentioned it. I'm not sure that I'll pick this one up, but hope to read one of her books soon.

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    1. This author is definitely one to try, J.P. Not everyone likes them but you never know till you try. I hope to see the movie for The Talented Mr. Ripley after reading the book.

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