After an aborted reading attempt of Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley some years ago – my first proper read of the author.
I did have a look at the book initially – 250-odd pages and think, okay – biff, bang, bosh – two days reading job done. Well Pat from Texas soon put pay to that notion. I read it from the 13th until the 23rd at an average of 25 pages a day. Each time I put the book down, I felt absolutely exhausted.
Tough writing, tough to read, she forces you to pay attention and concentrate on every word. Maybe I‘m usually a lazy reader and I only skim-read, I don’t know.
Enjoyed? No, more like endured.
Plot – amazing premise – two strangers meet on a train and kill for each other. No motive – the perfect crime.
Pace – pedestrian, leaden-footed.
Characters – Charles Bruno – slightly more interesting than Guy Haines. There’s an air of manic unpredictability about him. He seems to oscillate between wanting to either screw his mother or Guy Haines or maybe both at the same time – which would have made for a slightly more interesting book. Guy Haines – the somewhat unwilling participant in our scheme – idealistic and weak. I kind of wished he had missed that train and then I could have been spared all that followed.
I’m fairly sure Highsmith and psychological suspense and drama is not my thing, but I suppose I’ll have to try another from her to confirm. I previously thought when discarding Ripley, it was a case of right book, but the wrong time - it may well be there is no right time.
Overall - not great - though the ending was a wee bit better than what had come before, albeit somewhat predictable. I was a bit unconvinced at Markham’s capacity to assist our dogged detective Gerard in unmasking Guy. He seemed too slow-witted for such duplicity.
A generous 3 from 5
Bought second hand several years ago, possibly after suffering some kind of concussion which temporarily relieved me of my senses.
on June 15, 2004
The story begins very simple. Two people meet each other in a train and talk. But the end is not as simple as the beginning at all. Charles Bruno has killed Guy Haines' wife and Guy has killed Bruno's father. The basis for these two murders is established still on the train, but at that time no one imagines that it would go so far. Both have killed somebody at the end, but there is a difference between them: Bruno is an insane, and Guy is a victim.
Through the whole story a very complex relationship between these two men evolves just because of this accidental meeting on the train. Patricia Highsmith shows her ability to describe such relationships in a wonderful way. She tells a whole story with a relationship and has no need of any kind of big surprise effects to turn around the whole story. The reader is always up-to-date concerning the main action. Although it's not boring at all, because the real tension of the story is not created by the progression of the actions but by the progression of the relationship.
"Straingers on a Train" is not a typical detective story. Highsmith's protagonist is not a private detective who solves the case gloriously. The two murderers are protagonists, the reader even shares the suffering of the two men running away from the "bad" police. This complete role reversal - together with many other unusual initial positions - makes the book to a unique reading enjoyment. Absolutely recommendable!
on December 26, 2003
Patricia Highsmith's "Strangers on a Train" came out in 1950, attaining prompt bestseller status and intriguing filmdom's master of intrigue, Alfred Hitchcock, enough to fashion a film around it which was released one year later. Highsmith jolted readers with her gripping realism, taking a basically simple but clever plot and carving out something much more.
Highsmith's book focuses on two men in their twenties, Charlie Bruno and Guy Haines. The former is of great New York wealth, but is troubled and is headed for cataclysmic disaster, which he appears eager to reach fast through his alcoholic dissipation and all-purpose troublemaking. The latter has worked his way upward from a modest, middle class background in his native Texas to become one of America's premier architects before reaching his thirtieth birthday.
Under normal circumstances these individuals would probably never cross paths, but fate intervenes when they travel on the same train and meet as a result of the extroverted Bruno forcing himself on the more introspective Haines, who does not want to appear rude. When Bruno learns that Haines is faced with an unpleasant divorce situation in dealing with a promiscuous wife, the inebriated Bruno jolts his more stable traveling companion by suggesting that they swap murders. Someone who avidly reads mystery books, Bruno states that they would each perform a perfect crime since they would each be killing total strangers and there is nothing to link them to their victims. Bruno wants Haines to kill his father, who is standing in the way of his getting access to the family wealth. The reason for his hatred of his father is also linked to his slavish devotion to his mother, who is seen as a quasi-deity to the troubled young man.
Haines leaves the compartment when Bruno is sleeping off his drinking, convinced he will never hear from him again. He does, and under the most frightening circumstances. Highsmith has such a brilliant penchant for plotting mystery that no more will be given away, except to say that the psychological currents and cross-currents put readers squarely into the picture. The author forces the reader to make judgments of their own about life and death, and how we deal with each, and how authority is correlated with society. Are the two in opposition to each other? This is one of the probing questions she asks mainly through the interactions of the characters.
Highsmith could be referred to as an American Dostoyevsky. Just as the great nineteenth century Russian author probed the inner mind and the dimensions of guilt within the framework of someone who has taken a human life, the American touches those same roots in an atmosphere of chilling suspense. Bruno and Haines are characters fastened indelibly into the mind after reading Highsmith's explosive novel.
on December 29, 2002
I am quite fond of Patricia Highsmith's writing, having, like so many others, been introduced to her through her Ripley series. I am thrilled that Norton decided to republished most of her lesser-known novels and stories, many of which I have read already, the others of which top my reading to-do list. The greatest problem with this edition is the annoying presence of frequent typos and less frequent grammatical errors. I found myself having to go back to figure out the meaning of a sentence to discover one of the words was obviously incorrect. I understand that the publishers were probably rushing to get this edition on the market so that they could capitalize from The Talented Mr. Ripley's box-office sucess; nevertheless, the sloppiness distracts from the enjoyment experienced in reading Highsmith's other works.
With that said, Strangers on a Train lives up to its reputation as a significant first effort by Highsmith. Those familiar with her work will recognize the beginnings of themes she continues to explore throughout her life. Primarily, this work presents a sympathetic murderer-- like Ripley-- a person who, the reader believes has to murder. Like Flannery O'Connor, Highsmith has an uncanny ability to place us in the minds of characters who face circumstances that seemingly force them to do unthinkable things. She follows with guilt-- or lack thereof-- that confronts characters based on the strength of their conscience. It reminds us that often the worst decisions are made at times when the choice seemed rational under the circumstances.
I have yet to view Hitchcock's take on this novel. It is, undoubtedly, immensely difficult to portray a story that takes place mostly inside the characters minds on the big screen. For that reason alone, those who have seen the movie should consider reading this book.
on December 19, 2001
Yes. I realize that the book is usually better than the movie. "Strangers on A Train" is the exception to the rule. I was elated when the paperback came back into print. Perhaps my expectations were too high after reading "Those Who Walk Away". My basic complaint is that the book is too long: The reader will quickly realize that neither of the principal male characters, Bruno or Guy, are wrapped too tightly. The authoress devotes too much time and space in establishing that blatantly obvious fact. The story could easily have been shortened by 50 pages. The Hitchcock movie, at least the American version, concentrated on Guy's potential problems with the police. Highsmith chose to utilize a now you see him/now you don't private investigator. (Ineffectual police work is a recurring theme with the authoress, while the director was usually the opposite). I believe the authoress further lost her way when she decided to write "SOT" as a psychological tale rather than a straight crime story. I must acknowledge that the book is being held against a very high movie classic standard. Such comparisons are not completely fair to Ms. Highsmith, but they are also irresistible.
on October 18, 2001
"The train tore along with an angry irregular rhythm."
The first sentence of Patricia Highsmith's 1951 first novel, Strangers on the Train, evokes emotion and mystery on so many levels, just like her stories and novels work on so many levels. Highsmith's catalog, laden with unpredictability, tension, apprehension, strangeness and irrational viewpoints are classics ripe for a celebrated re-emergence
Norton has accepted the challenge with an announced 15-book initiative that should eventually bring nearly all of her work back into print. The initial release includes as the cornerstone a weighty volume of over 60 short stories written throughout her career, now collected together for the first time: The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith. Also re-released in trade paperback are novels Strangers on the Train and A Suspension of Mercy.
True mystery takes the reader into an unpredictable, twisted and scary world. Highsmith writes true mystery. This is most certainly NOT the formula PI novel with a simpleton murder and nice and neat search for the culprit. Highsmith doesn't rely on simple cat and mouse tension. Instead, she's a master of an unpredictable world, a cold and dark place where even you, the reader, are capable of murder. These are not feel-good works. The good guy usually loses, (that is if you can find a good guy). But the reader wins big because the work is so utterly interesting. Highsmith can rightly be called a master.
Strangers on a Train is a terrific introduction to Highsmith's work. Her first, and one of her finest novels, was the source for Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1953 film. From the opening sentence, the book works on many levels. Highsmith delights in surfacing the unsettled forces that lurk inside of the average person, in this case a passenger on a routine train journey.
What are the triggers that cause a seemingly average man to murder? What is good and what is evil? What is normal? Highsmith paints a picture that stretches the imagination to answer these questions in ways we never thought possible. She disturbs you. And she does it in a totally entertaining way.
David Meerman Scott
Author of Eyeball Wars: a novel of dot-com intrigue
on June 14, 2000
I cannot believe that A) only one Amazon customer has written areview of this book or that B) it is out of print! WHAT! This is,quite simply, one of the finest novels I have ever read. It was as tough to put down as any other book I've encountered, and at times as profound as Shakespeare. I've yet to discover any other writer besides Highsmith whose books are both absolutely riveting and thoroughly penetrating about the human condition. At times, it was so suspenseful I thought I was going to have a heart attack. The only other experience I've had in life that was as ravaging as this book is sex. Yet despite its at-times horrifying suspense, it is excruciatingly compassionate; the ending made me weep. Highsmith's characters are unbelievably real; I still can't figure out how she makes us care so much about people who are so flawed and sinful. It's as close to the divine as a writer can get. WOULD SOMEBODY PLEASE PUT THIS BOOK BACK IN PRINT SO I CAN GIVE A COPY TO EVERYONE I KNOW! END
on January 10, 2012
I went into this already familiar with Hitchcock's film version of the same story. The opening premise of the film and HighSmith's novel are the same. Two strangers meet on the train and discuss among other things, people in their lives: a Wife, a Father, who they would be better off without. One of these strangers, Charles Bruno, is an extremely well imagined sociopath, while the other, Guy, is a mild mannered architect whose role in this story I never entirely accept. Bruno murders Guy's wife, even though Guy never agreed to this plan. Now he is pressuring Guy to do his part and eliminate Bruno's Father.
After this setup the film and the book are very different. The book delves into the conscience of Bruno and Guy and takes you into their heads. While at first interesting this became quite tedious.
Then again it could be that I simply preferred Hitchcock's adaptation.
on October 30, 2003
...than the movie! As I recall it, the character of Bruno never develops in the movie beyond that of a randomly-met psychopath; the portrayal of Guy, for that matter, is rather limited as well. I suppose that the nature of cinema is responsible rather than any failing on the part of Hitchcock; in fact, I've always loved the movie, but the novel has a real gut-wrenching impact, particularly for any reader who has ever suffered from panic attacks. One gets much more of a sense why both major characters feel and act the way they do, and how anyone can find themselves closer to doing the unthinkable than they would ever have believed possible. An altogether harrowing vision of guilt and isolation!
on July 9, 2004
I don't know why it surprises me to discover that Hollywood has tampered with a novel. Having only seen the Hitchcock film scripted by Raymond Chandler, I was blown away by this early classic from Highsmith. Pretty much the first third of the novel has ended up on screen, but it would seem that Hitch and his associates simply didn't read the rest. Almost everything about this story has been changed. I like the story as Highsmith wrote it. She is a master of suspence. The characters are well drawn and full of ambiguity. Like most everything else I've read by Highsmith, this is both gripping and unnerving. I loved it.