Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Narrator: Bronson Pinchot
Published by Blackstone Audio on July 7, 2015
Source: Library
Genres: Classic, Crime Fiction
Length: 9 hrs 41 mins
Format: Audiobook
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three-half-stars

In Patricia Highsmith's debut novel, we encounter Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno, passengers on the same train. But while Guy is a successful architect in the midst of a divorce, Bruno turns out to be a sadistic psychopath who manipulates Guy into swapping murders with him. As Bruno carries out his twisted plan, Guy is trapped in Highsmith's perilous world - where, under the right circumstances, anybody is capable of murder.

The inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1951 film, Strangers on a Train launched Highsmith on a prolific career of noir fiction and proved her mastery of depicting the unsettling forces that tremble beneath the surface of everyday contemporary life.

There are some classics that I wonder why it has taken me so long to get around to. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith is one of those. It’s a dark, psychological thriller that shows anyone can be capable of murder, given the right, or wrong, circumstances. As the blurb states, Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno meet on a train. Guy tells Bruno the story of his problems with his wife, who he wants to divorce but who is putting up obstacles left and right, even though she’s pregnant with another man’s child. Bruno, meanwhile, tells Guy about his meany dad and suggests they trade murders. Guy declines, he’s basically a good guy after all, but he fails to realize that Bruno is an alcoholic psychopath, who, after killing Guy’s wife, expects Guy to follow through with his end of the deal. That’s where the bulk of the novel, and tension lies. Bruno is manipulative and black-mailing; Guy never knows who he’s going to tell or where he’s going to turn up. The plot itself is a bit predictable now, but that doesn’t lessen its tautness. And then as the guilt wear on both men, they become even more connected, in a love (or fascination) / hate kind of way.

I wish I had read this instead of listening to the audio. The narrator did a good job, don’t get me wrong, I just feel like he made Bruno very whiny. Yes, he was definitely a momma’s boy and a drunk, but the nuances were missing. He was more a caricature than I think he would have been in print. Without the childish intonations, I think the very real danger he presented to Guy would have been more palpable. But he was also infatuated with Guy and truly wanted to be near him, spend time with, while his mere presence drives Guy further into his dark pit.

On the other hand, it’s not Bruno’s development that interests us. How can Guy, a respected man in his field, intelligent, with all of his resources, how could he be pushed to murder? And not just murder, but the murder of a man he doesn’t know? Guy needs a back bone. I was a bit disappointed with the ending too, even if it may have been inevitable.

I’m going to try to watch Hitchcock’s movie this weekend. I’ve never seen it and I’m interested in how it compares to the novel.

About Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith (January 19, 1921 – February 4, 1995) was an American novelist and short story writer best known for her psychological thrillers, including her series of five novels based on the character of Tom Ripley. She wrote 22 novels and numerous short stories throughout her career, and her work has led to more than two dozen film adaptations. Her writing derived influence from existentialist literature, and interrogated notions of identity and popular morality. She was dubbed “the poet of apprehension” by novelist Graham Greene.

Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, has been adapted for stage and screen numerous times, notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. Her 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley has been adopted numerous times for film, theatre, and radio. Writing under the pseudonym “Claire Morgan,” Highsmith published the first lesbian novel with a happy ending, The Price of Salt, republished 38 years later as Carol under her own name and later adapted into a 2015 film.

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16 Comments

  1. Great review! Did you listen to the audio version read by Bronson Pinchot? Because I thought he was pretty perfect! But narrators are very much a taste thing – what works for one reader might not work for another.

    Like you I liked but didn’t love this book – it was hard to understand just why Guy went as far as he did. So frustrating!

    • Once in a while, a narrator just doesn’t quite work me. It doesn’t happen often, and maybe it has something to do with whether I connect the person to something other than book narration, like Bronson Pinchot and Perfect Strangers or Wil Wheaton and Big Bang Theory and TableTop.

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