Review: Strangers on a Train (1950) by Patricia Highsmith


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Penguin Books, 1984. Format: Paperback. First published in the U. S. A. in 1950. ISBN-10: 0 14 00 3796 9. 256 pages. 

0140037969.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Guy Haines, a young architect with a promising future, is heading to Metcalf in Texas. He looks forward to meeting his wife Miriam. Apparently, following three years of separation, she is ready now to grant him the divorce that she was not willing to accept before, since she is expecting a baby from another man. His divorce is going to  enable him to marry his current partner, Anne. During his train trip from New York, Guy has a chance encounter with Charles Anthony Bruno, the indolent son of a wealthy family, who is going to spend a few days’ rest with his mother in Santa Fe. Despite being two opposite poles, or perhaps for this reason, they are both attracted by each other and they end up having dinner together in Charles Bruno’s compartment. During the course of the dinner, Bruno talks non-stop and he drinks in excess. At a given moment, Bruno tells him that he hates his father and has considered killing him repeatedly and he comes up with the idea to swap murders. Bruno kills Guy’s wife and Guy kills his father. A perfect alibi, nobody knows they know each other. When they leave, Guy doesn’t think anymore in a matter that he has not taken seriously, until one day Miriam is murdered and he starts getting phone calls which demand him to fulfil his side of the bargain.

Strangers on a train was the debut novel of Patricia Highsmith and part of its success is due to the fact that it was adapted to the cinema by Alfred Hitchcock a year after its publication. However, the film doesn’t follow faithfully the argument of the novel. Specifically, the novel is based on the idea that anyone, under the right circumstances, can commit murder; and in the assumption that for the existence of two opposite concepts, each one requires of the existence of the other. In fact, two opposites are just two sides of the same coin, two aspects of the same thing. Take the concepts of good and evil, for example, each one can only exist thanks to the existence of the other, they cannot exist without each other. In this sense Guy can not exist without Bruno. And it’s on this issues, on which Patricia Highsmith developed most of her novels. However, in my view, the novel does not meet the expectations created in the first chapters, and I regret to say that, despite my admiration for Patricia Highsmith, I have to admit that Strangers on a Train has somewhat disappointed me. Maybe I was expecting much more or, as Rob has pointed out correctly in his review, some of the plot devices are quite weak. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that Strangers on a Train has been a landmark in the development of crime fiction.     

My rating: B (I really liked it)

I submit this review to participate in Rich Westlake’s meme, Crimes of the Century, at his blog Past Offences. The year under consideration for January 2016 is 1950.

Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and moved to New York when she was six, where she attended the Julia Richman High School and Barnard College. In her senior year she edited the college magazine, having decided at the age of sixteen to become a writer. Her first novel, Strangers on a Train, was made into a classic film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. The Talented Mr Ripley, published in 1955, introduced the fascinating anti-hero Tom Ripley, and was made into an Oscar-winning film in 1999 by Anthony Minghella. Graham Greene called Patricia Highsmith ‘the poet of apprehension’, saying that she ‘created a world of her own – a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger’ and The Times named her no.1 in their list of the greatest ever crime writers. Patricia Highsmith died in Locarno, Switzerland, in February 1995. Her last novel, Small g: A Summer Idyll, was published posthumously, the same year. (Source: Little, Brown Book Group)

Strangers on a Train has been reviewed at The View from the Blue House (Rob), Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog (Keishon), Past Offences (Reviewed by guest blogger Moira Redmond)

Vintage Books publicity page

W. W. Norton & Company publicity page

Little, Brown Book Group publicity page

10 Best Patricia Highsmith Books by Joan Schenkar at Publisher Weekly

Patricia Highsmith at Women Crime Writers

Extraños en un tren de Patricia Highsmith

Guy Haines, un joven arquitecto con un futuro prometedor, se dirige a Metcalf en Texas. Espera reunirse con su esposa Miriam. Al parecer, después de tres años de separación, ella está dispuesta ahora a concederle el divorcio que ella no estaba dispuesta a aceptar antes, ya que está esperando un bebé de otro hombre. Su divorcio va a permitirle casarse con su actual pareja, Anne. Durante su viaje en tren desde Nueva York, Guy tiene un encuentro casual con Charles Anthony Bruno, el hijo indolente de una familia acomodada, que va a pasar unos días de descanso con su madre en Santa Fe. A pesar de ser dos polos opuestos, o tal vez por esta razón, ambos se sienten atraídos mutuamente y acaban cenando juntos en el compartimento de Charles Bruno. Durante el transcurso de la cena, Bruno habla sin parar y bebe en exceso. En un momento dado, Bruno le dice que odia a su padre y ha considerado matarlo en varias ocasiones y se le ocurre la idea de intercambiar asesinatos. Bruno mata a la esposa de Guy y Guy mata a su padre. Una coartada perfecta, nadie sabe que se conocen. Cuando se van, Guy no piensa más en un asunto que no se ha tomado en serio, hasta que un día Miriam es asesinada y él comienza a recibir llamadas telefónicas que le exigen cumplir su parte del trato.

Extraños en un tren fue la primera novela de Patricia Highsmith y parte de su éxito se debe al hecho de que fue adaptada al cine por Alfred Hitchcock un año después de su publicación. Sin embargo la película no sigue fielmente el argumento de la novela. En concreto, la novela se basa en la idea de que cualquier persona, bajo las circunstancias adecuadas, puede cometer un asesinato; y en el supuesto de que para la existencia de dos conceptos opuestos, cada uno necesita de la existencia del otro. De hecho, dos opuestos son sólo dos caras de la misma moneda, dos aspectos de la misma cosa. Tome los conceptos del bien y del mal, por ejemplo, sólo pueden existir gracias a la existencia del otro, no pueden existir el uno sin el otro. En este sentido Guy no puede existir sin Bruno. Y es sobre estos temas, sobre los que Patricia Highsmith desarrolló la mayor parte de sus novelas. Sin embargo, en mi opinión, la novela no cumple con las expectativas creadas en los primeros capítulos, y lamento decir, que a pesar de mi admiración por Patricia Highsmith, tengo que admitir que Extraños en un tren me ha decepcionado un poco. Quizás me esperaba mucho más o simplemente, como Rob ha señalado correctamente en su reseña, algunos de sus recursos argumentales resultan bastante débiles. Sin embargo, no puedo negar que Extraños en un tren ha sido un hito en el desarrollo de la novela negra.

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó mucho)

Presento esta reseña como mi participación en el meme de Rich Westlake, Crimes of the Century, en su blog Past Offences. El año en consideración para enero del 2016 es el 1950.

Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995), una de las escritoras más originales y perturbadoras de la narrativa contemporánea, ha publicado en Anagrama las novelas El talento de Mr. Ripley (Premio Edgar Allan Poe y Gran Premio de la Lite­ratura Policíaca), La máscara de Ripley, El amigo americano, Crímenes imaginarios, El juego del escondite, Extraños en un tren, Tras los pasos de Ripley, Un juego para los vivos, Rescate por un perro, Gente que llama a la puerta, El hechizo de Elsie, Mar de fondo, El cuchillo, Carol, Ripley en peligro, Small g: un idilio de verano, El diario de Edith, Ese dulce mal, El temblor de la falsificación, El grito de la lechuza, La celda de cristal y Las dos caras de enero; los libros de relatos Sirenas en el campo de golf, Catástrofes, Los cadáveres exquisitos, Pájaros a punto de volar, Una afición peligrosa, Pequeños cuentos misóginos y Crímenes bestiales; así como el libro de ensayos Suspense. (Fuente: Anagrama)

Anagrama página publicitaria

15 thoughts on “Review: Strangers on a Train (1950) by Patricia Highsmith

  1. I remember quite enjoying this book, though its not my usual crime fiction choice. Do you think Bruno can be categorised as an antihero? I’ve just realised that in the book I just reviewed which looks at the antihero and Highsmith’s work, Strangers on a Train is not mentioned once, which I thought strange.

    1. Not really Kate, I don’t think Bruno is an antihero as Ripley. Unless you consider Guy an antihero, in which case Bruno, the other side of the coin, can be considered too. But in this particular case an essential element is missing to consider Guy or Bruno as antiheros. Neither of them deserves a special sympathy from the reader.

      1. I’m just writing up my review – I think I see a lot of Ripley in Bruno, although of course he is less capable and less mendacious. He idealises Guy in exactly the same creepy way Ripley idealises Dickie Greenleaf.

      2. I read the first four books featuring Ripley over thirty years ago, Rich and my memory can betray me, but I see no similarity between Bruno and Ripley. Anyway, I would like to reread these books during the course of this year and will pay attention to your view. In any case it was also my impression that Ripley’s character is quite a bit different in his first book in contrast with the rest of the books in the series.

  2. Thanks for mentioning my review Jose Ignacio – Rich invited me to participate when I was a relatively new blogger, and I really enjoyed the experience. An interesting, if dark, book…

  3. Pingback: Patricia Highsmith: Strangers on a Train | Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

  4. Pingback: ‘A mud fight at a village fair’: #1950book results | Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

  5. Pingback: January Reading Round-Up | A Crime is Afoot

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