Thursday 18 October 2018

RIP XIII Book the Second - Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

Ah, Patricia Highsmith. Having finally read The Talented Mr Ripley last year, Patricia (may I call her Patty?) has started to become a staple of the glorious RIP reading season. I say this, of course, having read Strangers on a Train because OMG have you read this book? It's like a masterclass in suspense, and I honestly felt slightly uncomfortable and stressed out the whole time I was reading this book, even when I wasn't actually reading it.

10/10 great holiday read, am I right?

No. But it is the perfect RIP read, and let's explore why. I think, if pop culture has any kind of effect on your life, you probably know the very basic plot of Strangers on a Train. My introduction to the basic plot was via Diagnosis Murder (it's amazing, come fight me), where a madman murders the woman who is making the fine, upstanding Dr Mark Sloan's life a misery, and then expects him to do a murder for him in return. Dr Mark Sloan, of course, being the fine upstanding man that he is, doesn't, which as I understood it is not what happens in this book.

I was right, but I was also kinda wrong, as well. I thought that Strangers on a Train involved the meeting of two men who genuinely want difficult people out of their lives and they agree together to make that a reality. Actually, the beginning of this book is a lot more like Diagnosis Murder (I know, I'll stop soon) than I had expected - Guy is an upstanding young man whose ex-wife is causing him problems, but once his mildly psychopathic seatmate Bruno suggests that he murders her in return for Guy murdering his father, he is half horrified, half in disbelief. It doesn't even occur to him that Bruno is being serious, and he doesn't consent at all to the plan. AT ALL.* Are you listening, Bruno?

Anyway, things happen, people do murders, it's all bad. What's so great about this book is that you're kind of getting two experiences in one. When the book is following Bruno, it's all frenetic, wild, a man constantly plotting and trying to bend the world to his will and, really throughout the whole book, a man falling apart at the seams. He is broken from the beginning, and he only degenerates from there. Guy, on the other hand, is an upstanding, well, guy. He is progressing in his career, he has Anne, who loves him, he has friends and family and a whole life that is more or less perfect, or at least getting there. What we get when we follow Guy, then, is a person trying to hold all of this together, and hold himself together, when there is quite literally a madman pursuing him at every turn. I don't mean to say that Guy is blameless, and I don't think the novel wants you to feel that either, but he is still a victim of Bruno as much as the other characters, and it's just more interesting to see his degeneration than to watch Bruno's depravity.

This book, then, might not be exactly what you're expecting, but you for sure won't regret reading it. Suspense and nervousness and all of that good stuff await you, gentle reader - just watch who you sit next to the next time you're on a train...

*I have only read the book and I'm super aware that this could be played different in the movie and I want to see that! But this is how I read the book.