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Old 3rd Nov 2006, 18:19   #11
Lizzy Siddal
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Default Re: Book 29 - Strangers on a Train - Patricia Highsmith

Spot on, Mr Self! Just one difference of opinion, which I shall come to later.

The book contains an original premise, executed quite magnificently (i.e in a -way up to the first murder). Had the victim's soon-to-be ex-husband reacted the way I would have, i.e turned Bruno in, there would have been no novel. Yet, the very fact that he allowed Bruno's psychological manipulations to get the better of him annoyed me intensely.

By committing the second murder Guy boxes himself into a corner. His guilt is boring. Bruno's manipulations are much more interesting involving as they do, Guy's wife, Anne. At this point, I feel, Highsmith boxes herself into a corner. The only way out of it being Bruno's demise, which is a tad too convenient.

I'm not entirely sure about the "cut and dried" denouement. I'd certainly call the final scene manufactured but isn't the final outcome ambiguous? Which way is Gerard going to go? Will he accept the mitigating factors? Will he help Guy escape the death penalty? I would love to know. Did Highsmith write a sequel?

Final rating 1/2
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Old 4th Nov 2006, 19:08   #12
Kimberley
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Default Re: Book 29 - Strangers on a Train - Patricia Highsmith

I've just finished reading this and since I'm so busy, I might not have
given it the time it deserves. Some observations though:
  • it's not as accomplished as the Ripleys, but being her first novel, that's natural
  • it's great to read another story from the point of view of the murderer. I like how she does this. I'm not so keen on the ending here, and I don't want to give any spoliers, so I'll just say... not convinced.
  • I did like the set up though. Unlike other readers, I think I can understand why the narrator didn't tell the police what was going on as soon as his wife was killed. It seemed a bit unbelievable to him (as it would) and he needed some time to make it real, by which time it was too late to tell.
  • Bruno was believable. My goodness, she does a good villain. Lizzy's right, Guy's guilt is boring. I know he's meant to be the "everyman" caught up in a thriller, but other writers are better at that. In the Ripley books, Highsmith writes more to her own particular talents.
Thanks for your comments, JS, about her other books, I might look for This Sweet Sickness next.
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Old 14th Nov 2006, 5:18   #13
Beth
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Default Re: Book 29 - Strangers on a Train - Patricia Highsmith

As someone who's new to Patricia Highsmith, I'm glad that I was able to read her first effort and look forward to more accomplishments. Unlike Lizzy, the first five chapters weren't enough to lock my interest and I thought that I was reading a stylish, predictable tale that would bring me through plenty of twists and turns only to end well enough. This was only partially true. The resolution definitely was movie perfect and Bruno's fate I might have guessed. What struck me about the novel is the brilliant depiction of a man with what I would say is borderline personality disorder. (Help me here, Leyla!) This was written before the DSM even specified BPD and I don't think I've ever placed such a diagnostic tag on a character. However, Bruno so closely and garishly fits the bill that I couldn't help but read the midsection of the novel with anguish, grim fascination, and true horror at his manipulations of Guy. Bruno is such a believable, complex villain and his sickness at times did cast a thick, claustrophobic pall to the dialogue, making it seem as if 20 pages took 20 hours to read. The glimpses into Bruno's relationship with his mother are scattered infrequently but provide dialogue that explains much about Bruno's lack of attachment to anyone. Highsmith takes the fully formed agent of malevolence we meet on the train and allows us to see him suffering with alcoholism and the kind of superficial parenting that can contribute to such disorder.

Guy's participation is much less believable, though I really appreciate Kimberley's idea that Guy didn't call the police because he was in denial. It stretches belief that someone like Guy, the regular guy?, would spend two minutes in chit chat with Bruno, let alone find himself dining with him and divulging secrets. Then again, here we are in a not totally dissimilar niche, a place where strangers meet to discuss what's on our minds. We're all strangers on the train in many ways.
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