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Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

Strangers on a Train (1950)

by Patricia Highsmith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (45)  Spanish (2)  Swedish (1)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  All languages (50)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
It’s the 1940s and there’s this guy named Guy, who’s not a stand-up guy, and another named Bruno, who’s this weird, whiny psycho-brute with a bogus heart and sizable mommy issues. When introduced, a big boil decorates the middle of Bruno’s forehead to clue us he has an ugly mind and ugly soul, something his heavy drinking and disposition to be irresponsible and immature do little to improve. But Bruno would like to kill for you and you needn’t even ask.

So, suppose a guy meets a stranger like Bruno on a train. What might happen? That’s the story Patricia Highsmith tells in her novel Strangers on a Train. Highsmith is skilled at engineering such a story, the plot points falling infallibly into place.

Well, I have complaints.

The book is claustrophobic. We always are in the company of Guy and/or Bruno. Other characters don’t pop onto the scene unless at least one of these two men is present, or is about to be, and those others have little dimension. One of the intended victims is a prop, filtered to us as a shadow only through Bruno’s mind. This staging might intensify for some readers the emotional travails to be suffered but to me it just felt cramped.

And then there’s the detective, a fellow named Gerard. He frequently comes up with important intel, but so far as we’re allowed to see (except at the end) he does almost nothing to acquire it. His competence or methods, as interesting as these could be, are not interesting to Highsmith. Gerard is present mostly to annoy Bruno and to weigh on Guy’s mind. Fine—that’s the author’s wish. But dull it is.

Also, we have a trial. Our author glosses over that trial with little said about what happens in the courtroom. It comes across as an exercise in how to avoid writing such a scene. Nor is Guy’s character sufficiently explored during this time of stress and ethical consequence. It’s as if the trial is a hindrance to moving on with the plot.

Finally, does a novel really have any suspense if the reader comes to wish a dire fate for almost everyone? If a desire to put an end to one’s association with these characters trumps everything else?

Highsmith uses the word “boredly” several times, a word I’ve never heard spoken and don’t recall having read elsewhere. It’s a kind of small gift because now I can say I read most of Strangers on a Train most boredly. ( )
  dypaloh | Jul 24, 2018 |
3.5 stars, rounded down because this genre isn’t my favorite.

Patricia Highsmith knows how to build an atmosphere of tension and suspense. She makes her characters seem like bugs caught in webs, the more they struggle to extricate themselves, the tighter the web becomes...and the spider is sitting there in view, watching the struggle, enjoying it really. She is simply the master of psychological distress.

You would think that Guy Haines would be a man hard to understand. Charley Bruno is a psychopath, insane, beyond the pale--but Guy is just a guy like me or you who gets embroiled in a situation not of his making and becomes an active participant. Sounds like he would be hard to understand, but what makes this work is that he isn’t. What he does seems natural, sane, inevitable, and even his attitude toward crazy Charley somehow makes sense. Makes you feel like life turns on a dime and you could cross a line without even knowing it is there.

If you love this kind of tense, dramatic conundrum, this is one of the best. It is classic. I felt the same knotted up feeling that I felt reading her other novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. But, for me, there lies the problem. I hate having my gut in knots when it doesn’t serve a higher purpose, and this is like a horror film--pure entertainment, if you like to be entertained that way. I guess I can find enough horror in the real world without wanting to visit it in the pages of a book.
( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
It's been a long time since I've seen the movie, but as I recall, the book is very different, much more psychological. The premise is that two men meet on a train and get to talking, and one proposes that they each commit a murder, someone the other person wants to get rid of. Since the murderer has no ties to the victim, it would be the perfect crime. I think that next to The Talented Mr. Ripley, this is Highsmith's best book, and it explores similar themes of obsession and the capability every person has to abandon our moral conscience. Highsmith's writing is good, but her outlook on humanity is certainly bleak. ( )
  sturlington | Jun 10, 2018 |
much darker than the Hitchcock Movie. Two men meet on a train - one proposes that each kills the other's troublesome family member. ( )
  margaretfield | May 30, 2018 |
Review pending but boy was it different from the Hitchcock movie! ( )
  leslie.98 | May 23, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Highsmith, Patriciaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Andrew, IanIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ayala, JoanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Docktor, IrvIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eräpuro, AnnikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hitchcock, AlfredForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Für alle Virginias
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The train tore along with an angry, irregular rhythm. It was having to stop at smaller and more frequent stations, where it would wait impatiently for a moment, then attack the prarie again. But progress was imperceptible. The prarie only undulated like a vast, pink-tan blanket being casually shaken. The faster the train went, the more bouyant and taunting the undulations.

Guy took his eyes from the window and hitched himself back against the seat.
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Book description
Almost against his will, Guy Haines is trapped in a nightmare of shared guilt when he agrees to kill the father of the man who will kill Guy's wife.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393321983, Paperback)

A major new reissue of the work of a classic noir novelist.

With the acclaim for The Talented Mr. Ripley, more film projects in production, and two biographies forthcoming, expatriate legend Patricia Highsmith would be shocked to see that she has finally arrived in her homeland. Throughout her career, Highsmith brought a keen literary eye and a genius for plumbing the psychopathic mind to more than thirty works of fiction, unparalleled in their placid deviousness and sardonic humor. With deadpan accuracy, she delighted in creating true sociopaths in the guise of the everyday man or woman. Now, one of her finest works is again in print: Strangers on a Train, Highsmith's first novel and the source for Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1953 film. With this novel, Highsmith revels in eliciting the unsettling psychological forces that lurk beneath the surface of everyday contemporary life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:59 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"Here 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."--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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